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GOVERNMENT OF INDIA 


ARCHEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF INDIA 

CENTRAL 
ARCHAEOLOGICAL 
| LI BRAR Y 

ACCESSION NO. loo 6^ _ 

CALL No. 4Z<k. _ Maa r _ 

D.G.A. 79. 



















LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 








LECTURES ON 

ARABIC HISTORIANS 


[DELIVERED BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY OF CALCUTTA, 
FEBRUARY .1929] 


10064 



BY 

D. S. MARGOLIQUTH, D.Litt., F.B.A. 


Mcur 








PRINTED BY BHUPENDRALAL BANBRJBB, 

AT TUB CALCUTTA UNIVERSITY PRESS. SENATE HOUSE. CALCUTTA 


Reg. No. 489B.—Feb-, 1930.—E. 




-• 


. . V . '.v^ 


%A. 







3)rtitcate& 


to 

S. KHUDA BUKHSH, 
Barrister-at-Law, 

Interpreter of Indian Islam to Europe 
and of European Orientalism 
to India 






. 4 . 1 








PREFACE 


An eminent Orientalist, who had edited numer¬ 
ous Arabic texts, had the following remark and 
question addressed to him by a fellow-student: I see, 
Professor, that you have printed a number of Arabic 
works; when do you intend to start reading them ? 
The present writer, who has translated and annotat¬ 
ed many of the Arabic books which he has published, 
is unlikely to be questioned in this style; but some¬ 
thing of the sort might be said about the seven 
volumes of Yaqut’s Dictionary of Learned Men, 
most of which he has had the pleasure (and the 
labour) of editing twice, without translation, and 
with a minimum of notes, chiefly of the critical 
variety. When therefore he was invited to deliver 
a course of Lectures to the University of Calcutta, 
he regarded this as an opportunity for collecting and 
reproducing in English the information which 
Yaqut’s work contains about the chief Arabic his¬ 
torians of the first four Islamic centuries, and adding 
thereto such observations as his study of these 
writers had suggested to him. Much of the con¬ 
tents will be familiar to Arabic scholars, but it may 
be hoped that the Lectures will be found to contain 
a fair proportion of fresh matter. 

Oxford , July 1929. D. S. M. 


Owing to the distance it was not possible to 
send the author a proof for correction, whence some 
oversights may remain, which it is to be hoped the 
reader will excuse. 


S. KHUDA BUKHSH. 



CONTENTS. 


i 

Page. 

Lecture I. 

Conspectus of the Subject ... ... l 

Lecture H. 

Pre-Islamic History ... ... 22 

Lecture IIL 

The Beginnings of Arabic History ... 41 

Lecture IV. 

Poetry as a Vehicle of History ... ... 59 

Lecture V. 

Historians of the Second Century A.H. ... 82 
Lecture VI. 

Historians of the Third Century A.H. ... 101 
Lecture VH. 

Historians of the Fourth Century A.H. ... 128 
Lecture ,VHI. 

Later Historians ... ... 147 







LECTURES ON 

ARABIC HISTORIANS 

LECTURE I. 

Conspectus of the Subject. 

History is a subject which furnishes one of the 
most copious departments of Arabic literature. The 
German Arabist Wustenfeld made a collection of 
Arabic historians belonging to the first millennium 
of Islam, and his numbers reach 590. It is likely 
that many have escaped him, who would have 
swollen this total. And many of their works are 
colossal in character. We are told that the his¬ 
torian Tabari (ob. 310 A.H.) proposed to dictate a 
historical work to his students : the number of leaves 
which he at first proposed to cover was 30,000; as 
the students held that life would not be long enough 
for the study of such a work, he reduced the number 
to one-tenth, 3,000 leaves, which corresponds fairly 
with the bulk of the work in the editions of Leyden 
and Cairo. This composition left him time for a 
work of similar bulk on the Qur’an, which also is 
said to be one-tenth of the amount originally con¬ 
templated. For the active period of his life the 
average amount which he wrote was 40 leaves a 
day; those who divided the leaves which he had 




2 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


covered by the days of his life from the cradle to the 
grave found that he had ■written 14 leaves for each 
day of his existence. At one time, he, his predeces¬ 
sor Jahiz of Basrah, and his successor Tim IJazm of 
Cordova, counted as the most prolific of Arabic 
authors, hut it is not clear that any of them had a 
right to this distinction. The titles of the works 
of Mada’ini (ob. 225), who comes near the com¬ 
mencement of the series of historians, fill more than 
five pages. Those of Tbn 'Asakir (oh. 571) start 
with a History of Damascus in a hundred volumes • 
the first draft of the work occupied 580 fasciculi, 
the later 800. But there follows a series of titles 
of works occupying a couple of pages, some of which 
were evidently bulky. And it is clear that Tabari’s 
history, vast as it is, would not bear comparison in 
size with the History of Islam by Dhahabi in the 
eighth century of Islam. 

Treatmgdiistory on this vast <*cale has some ob¬ 
vious advantages, though it will he seen that - in 
many cases the content bears no proportion to the 
magnitude of the work. The volumes are frequent¬ 
ly swollen to their bulk by repetition of the same or 
nearly the same matter, as handed down by different 
chains of authorities. Thus a whole volume of 
Ibn 'Asakir might be reduced to a few pages (at 
most) if the reader were contented with a single 
chain of tradition for a single tradition. But even 
where the content corresponds with the magnitude 
it is evident that the cost of production must be 
excessive, whence few copies are likely to be made; 
occasional notices which we obtain of the price of 
books or the cost of copying show that few students 


CONSPECTUS OF THE SUBJECT 


3 


would be able to procure complete sets of such 
works. And when the owner of such a work dies, 
the volumes have a tendency to be distributed be¬ 
tween the heirs. Hence in several of these cases 
the student thinks himself fortunate if by travelling 
to different cities he can make himself acquainted 
with all the volumes of such books. 

Though Wiistenfeld’s list terminates with the 
year 1000 A.H., it does not begin with the Prophet’s 
death. Notices of prose literature assuming the 
form of written books prior to the ‘Abbasid period 
are vague and often untrustworthy With us the 
natural seat of a book is some material such as 
paper : it may or may not be committed to memory. 
With the Arab the natrual seat of a book is the 
memory : it may or may not be committed to writ¬ 
ing. In the Qur’an there are indications that the 
seat of a book is regarded as the memory, notwith¬ 
standing the importance which is therein attached 
to writing. An abrogated text may be either erased 
or caused to be forgotten; it may be either written or 
merely remembered. We read there of clear texts 
in the breasts of those to whom knowledge has been 
given. The People of the Book are said to make 
‘ ‘ charts * ’ of their sacred books: these then could 
and did exist apart from those “ charts,” and as 
such could be communicated to prophets by inspira¬ 
tion. We shall have occasion later on to notice the 
tenacity with which this conception held sway even 
when men were writing and amassing written books 
on a vast scale. 

The reasons however which prevented the deve¬ 
lopment of prose literature before ‘Abbasid times 


4 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


and causes which overcame them will occupy some 
of our time to-morrow. What strikes us, in 
considering the colossal proportions to which histo¬ 
rical literature grew, is the rapidity of this develop¬ 
ment. It is jis if a mass of water which had been 
dammed up suddenly broke loose. One cause is 
likely to have been an invention to which justice lias 
rarely been done in the history of progress, that of 
paper, which came into Europe through Muslim in¬ 
tervention. The Muslims had obtained it from the. 
Middle East, and even in the first century of their 
era had taken to its employment and manufacture 
The invention, as cheapening the process of produc¬ 
tion, is to be compared with that of printing. 

But Islam itself, with the advent of the 
‘Abbasids, and the foundation of its great capital 
Baghdad, seems to have burst its bonds. It is not 
indeed clear that the Umayyad standards of piety and 
morality were greatly altered for the better by the 
change of dynasty. But the welcome which the 
new dynasty received is easily intelligible, since 
the antagonism between the Umayyad house and 
that of the Prophet was too deeply rooted to permit 
of loyalty to both. We are told casually how the 
pious ‘Umar, son of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, abolished the 
practice of cursing ‘ Ali from the pulpit: and the 
Shi'ah venerate his memory on that account. Yet 
such a concession to sentiment may have had as 
serious consequences in shaking the power of the 
Umayyads as the recovery of Napoleon’s ashes had 
in shaking the French Kingdom. And when we 
read how in Umayyad times men did not venture to 
name their sens ‘Ali, Husan or 5uasin it does not 



CONSPECTUS OF THE SUBJECT 


5 


surprise us that the earliest Biography of the Pro¬ 
phet should be later than the rise of the ‘Abbasids. 
The Biography of the Prophet could scarcely have 
been told in Umayvad times without seriously 
shaking the loyalty of Muslims to their rulers : and 
the soqual would not have improved the situation. 
If men were afraid to call their sons ‘Ali, Husain or 
Hussain and were accustomed to hear ‘Ali cursed 
from the pulpit, the less they heard about the be¬ 
ginnings of Islam, the more likely would they be to 
maintain their loyalty. 

It is desirable to find some principles upon 
which we can classify this vast literature, and these 
may be furnished by our conception of what history 
means. We need not indeed occupy ourselves with 
the question how it should be written : on that 
abstruse subject many different theories have been 
propounded. All would probably agree that it is a 
record of events : and that events are chiefly, though 
not exclusively, the sayings and doings of men. 
And we may obtain some principles of classification 
from this definition. 

First from the amount covered in space and 
time. There are universal histories and particular 
histories. Tabari’s work is a universal history, at 
any rate in intention. Hence he commences with 
a definition of time and a theory of the length of 
time which the world has lasted. Its title is 
Chronicle of Apostles and Kings. When he reaches 
the rise of Islam, he confines himself to the portion 
of the world embraced by Islam. And other pro¬ 
fessedly universal historians adopt the same plan. 



6 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


Historians whose programme is Jess ambitious 
restrict themselves to the Islamic portions of the 
earth or to some one or other of these portions : or 
to some period whether of Islamic history as a 
whole or of some Islamic state. Thus we. have 
Dhaliabi’s History of Islam to which reference has 
been made, histories of countries such as Egypt, 
Spain, the Maghrib, or cities such as Mecca, 
Medinah, Damascus, Nisabur, Hama'dhan, Herat; 
or of dynasties such as Khazraji’s history of the 
Rasulids in Yemen, or Abu Shameh’s of the two 
dynasties of Nur-al-din and Salah-al-din. 

Another principle of classification would be 
connected with the persons who take part in the 
events. This department would rather be termed 
biography than history, but the line which separates 
the two is often faint. Where the person whose 
career is recorded is a sovereign, the distinction 
vanishes : since the sovereign is the state according 
to the famous saying of Louis XIV, his biographv 
is the history of his time. And since the states 
whose history is recorded were with scarcely an ex¬ 
ception autocracies, the continuous histories find 
their natural division into sections by the succession 
of sovereigns. Where the title of such a work is 
simple, not fanciful, it frequently implies this* 
Tabari’s work is, as has been seen, a chronicle of 
Apostles and Kings : and such titles as Chronicle of 
the Caliphs, or Story of the Caliphs, are quite com¬ 
mon. Nor is the distinction between biography 
and history much more distinct when the subject is 
not a sovereign but a plenipotentiary minister, such 
as many of the viziers were. The life of the good 






CONSPECTUS OP THE SUBJECT 7 

Vizier, ‘Ali b. ‘Isa, recently issued by Mr. Bowen, 
is really a history of the reign of Muqtadir: for 
though it was in the power of this Caliph to appoint 
and dismiss ministers according to his caprice, the 
minister during his enjoyment of power was respon¬ 
sible for all the departments of the state. Indeed 
the great authority on Constitutional Law regards 
the procedure whereby a sovereign delegates his 
authority to a minister as normal. Hence, the 
works which narrate the lives of the viziers must be 
regarded as histories of their times. Of the numer¬ 
ous works which dealt with this subject we possess 
two in fragmentary form, and others may be brought 
to light. If they differ from the chronicles in 
form, it is owing to the tendency of the Arabic bio¬ 
graphers to furnisli strings of anecdotes in no chro¬ 
nological order instead of following the better prac¬ 
tice of narrating events in the order of their occur¬ 
rence. 

Where the biographies are of persons less inti¬ 
mately connected with public affairs, they are not 
to be classed unconditionally with history, but the 
modern student of that subject cannot afford to neg¬ 
lect them, if besides following the kings in their ex¬ 
ternal and internal struggles, their matrimonial 
alliances, and their enactments, he would also wish 
to understand something of the life and occupations 
of the people over whom they ruled. And the 
biographical literature of the Arabs was exceedingly 
rich : indeed it would appear that in Baghdad when 
an eminent man died there was a market for bio¬ 
graphies of him somewhat as is the case in the capi¬ 
tals of Europe in our time; and where a, man’s per- 


8 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

sonality had for some reason impressed itself on the 
public mind, or his literary works had attained the 
rank of classics, numerous biographers would arise. 
Biographies of living men were doubtless rare, but 
we have an example of one in the work by Abu 
Hayyan Tauhidi on the two viziers Ibn al-'Amld the 
Second, and the Sahib Ibn ‘Abbad. of which largo 
extracts have been preserved by Yaqut, whereas 
there is reason for believing the whole work to be 
still in existence. It was to have been printed in 
Constantinople: but the same policy which com¬ 
pelled the Ottoman journalists to conceal the assas¬ 
sination of President McKinley, forbade the publica¬ 
tion of a work wherein a vizier was attacked. More¬ 
over the work had the reputation, like some others, 
of bringing ill-luck. 

The literature which consists in collected bio¬ 
graphies is abnormally large, and it is in conse¬ 
quence easier for the student of the history of the 
Caliphate to find out something about the persons 
mentioned in the chronicles than in anj' analogous 
case. Some authors collect biographies of eminent 
men of all sorts : the work of Ibn Khallikan is 
familiar, and of a work on a far vaster scale some 
two centuries later many volumes are in existence. 
More frequently these collectors confine themselves 
to a particular group of persons—poets, physicians, 
jurists of some particular school, Readers of the 
Qur’an, Traditionalists and the like. Or they deal 
with persons conspicuous for some quality or prac¬ 
tice, such as Misers or Parasites. 

Some four methods or arrangement may be dis¬ 
tinguished in these works. The first may be des- 


CONSPECTUS OF THE SUBJECT 0 

cribed as arbitrary, such as we find in that great 
storehouse of historical information, the Aghani, 
where the clue to the order is a collection of a hun¬ 
dred odes set to music ordered by one of the Caliphs : 
this leads to a series of narratives connected with 
the poets and the musicians. A second method is 
the geographical. The collector makes his prin¬ 
ciple of arrangement the countries to which the per¬ 
sons with whom he deals belong. Famous exam¬ 
ples are the Yatimak of Tha‘ali‘bi, where the poets 
are grouped according to their countries, and the 
‘Uyun of Ibn Abi TJsaibi'ah, where the like is done 
with the physicians. A third principle is the chro¬ 
nological. Works of this sort are called Tabaqat, 
Layers or Classes. The subjects are dealt witli by 
generations. Notable cases of this method are the 
Tabaqat al-Huffaz, Classes of Traditionalists by 
Dhahabi, and the Tabaqat al-Sh3fi‘iyah, Classes of 
Shaf'i doctors by Subki. A fourth principle, and 
in some respects the most convenient, is the alpha¬ 
betical, which is followed by Yakut. 

Frobably the Tabaqat arrangement is that 
which serves the historical student best: here we 
have ontinuity, which is the essence of history. 
It is clearly superior to the geographical arrange¬ 
ment, for though the Islamic world was very early 
divided into different states, some of which had 
little connexion with each other, there was great 
community of studies. A common language, a 
common religion, and a common literature connect¬ 
ed Spain and Egypt with Syria and Iraq, even when 
political ties had been snapped, with no prospect of 
reunion. Learned men, poets, and professional men 

2 



10 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


travelled from one Islamic country to another, and 
settled either temporarily or permanently wherever 
they had the best prospect of success. There are 
indeed adages which magnify the evils of exile : 
but many more speak of it as the road to success. 
The most famous of all the Arabic }K>ets, Mutanabbi, 
is unable to remain long in any country : Egypt, 
Syria, Iraq, and Persia all provide him for a time 
with patrons. Hence the geographical arrange¬ 
ment attaches too much importance to what is an 
accident. Those who follow the alphabetical 
arrangement are inclined to make some sacrifices, if 
not to continuity, at any rate to similarity or some 
other connexion between their subjects. Ibn 
Khallikan makes considerable sacrifices to this con¬ 
sideration and Yaqiit makes some. 

Thirdly it is possible to divert attention from 
space and persons to events as such. Wo shall sec 
that the earliest form of historical narrative followed 
this principle. The early history of Islam was a 
collection of events, recorded by one or more eye¬ 
witnesses : the Murder of ‘Uthman, the Battle of the , 
Camel, the Battle of Siffin, the Arbitration, the Con¬ 
quests of the different countries, furnished isolated 
narratives, afterwards strung into continuous his¬ 
tory. Monographs, as we should call them, on 
these and other events, continued to be written long 
after continuous histories had become normal. And 
it is possible to treat events not only as memorable 
in themselves, but as illustrating some principle 
whether of human nature or of the government of 
the world. This conception furnishes us with great 
numbers of works of collectanea, memoirs, memnra - 



CONSPECTUS OF THE SUBJECT 11 

bilia, and the like; few languages are richer in litera¬ 
ture of the sort. Frequently there is no. attempt at 
arranging the matter. It is noticeable that in 
Tnnukhi’s two works of this type the smaller follows 
a principle of arrangement, the larger professedly 
follows none. His “ Deliverance after Stress ” is 
divided into sections which deal with groups of cases 
where men unexpectedly were delivered from press¬ 
ing danger: such as deliverances from wild beasts, 
from robbers, after veridical dreams, etc. His vaster 
work, of which only two volumes have as yet come to 
light out of eleven, the “ Collection of Histories ” 
or “ Chewing of the Cud of Conversation ” inten¬ 
tionally mixes matter dealing with a vast number of 
classes : the author thinks the attention of the reader 
will be more easily held if uniformity is avoided. 
Yet he does not quite succeed in keeping similar 
matters apart. Further it would appear that there 
is in this work something resembling the principle 
whereon the musnad is arranged, i.c., the grouping 
of the material according to the authority from whom 
it emanated. 

Attention may be called to three characteristics 
which this literature displays. 

1. Independence. When literary composition 
began on the scale which has been noticed, there 
were numerous departments wherein foreign models 
were employed. Arab writers rarely conceal their 
obligations: they acknowledge them in their medi¬ 
cine, their mathematics, and their philosophy. All 
these branches of literature start with translations 
from the Greek : and those who pursue them seem 
never to tire of translating and commenting on the 


12 LE CTO RES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

ancient texts. There is a MS. in Paris which con' 
tains four separate translations of the same Aristo¬ 
telian treatise. There were suspicions abroad that 
those who professed this foreign learning were not 
themselves adepts at it: we have more than one 
story of malicious persons framing mock questions 
in philosophy which the philosophers mistook for 
serious questions and attempted to solve. At differ¬ 
ent periods the foreign learning was regarded witn 
awe and with horror. That it was foreign in origin 
was not disputed. That the literature of fable was 
derived from India through Persia was also admit¬ 
ted : it found some, possibly numerous, imitators. 
In the case of grammar it is difficult to reject the 
apparent connexion with Syriac studies in this 
region which in their turn were based on Greek 
studies : some have even found a trace of Greek ori¬ 
gin in the name whereby the Arabs designate gram¬ 
mar, though this seems far-fetched. 

Greek literature does indeed show parallels to 
perhaps all the departments of history which have 
been enumerated. The Greeks had universal his¬ 
tories, histories of countries and cities, biographies 
of persons and classes of persons, collectanea and 
memorabilia similar in character to those which 
Arabic literature developed. Yet there seems to be 
no trace of any translation of a Greek historian into 
Arabic: those histories which count in Europe as 
models of historical writing are unknown to the 
Arabic bibliographers. Even Syriac historians, whose 
works might well have interested those who were 
engaged in archaeological study, seem to have been 
neglected. Possibly Persian chronicles, such as 



CONSPECTUS OF THE SUBJECT 1$ 

f 'XI ^ 

seem to have existed in Biblical times, may have 
l)een utilized for Persian history, but for the earlier 
centuries such employment is obscure. Arabic 
history seems to be independent of these works and 
to grow up before our eyes. For reasons which will 
occupy us later it has no continuity with earlier 
chronicles, but is a natural growth, brought into 
existence by the needs of the community and dis¬ 
playing characteristics of its own. 

Secondly the authors are very rarely official 
historians, whose duty it is to record what the 
government wants them to record. Tabari and 
others mention cases wherein literary works were 
ordered by Caliphs, such as the collection of ancient 
lays ordered by al-Mahdi, and the manuals of the 
four orthodox systems ordered by al-Qadir. They 
do not seem to mention a case of a historical work 
ordered by a Caliph, though they record some where¬ 
in such works were discouraged or forbidden. A 
case of an official chronicle is that of the Taji, 
called after Taj al-Millah. one of ‘Adud al-daulah’s 
titles, composed by the famous Secretary of State 
Ibrahim the Sabian. This person, as Secretary to 
Tzz al-daulah Baklitiyar, second Buwaihid Emir of 
Baghdad, had composed letters which gave grave 
offence to his cousin ‘Adud al-daulab, who after his 
father’s death attacked him and ousted him from 
his throne. Although Ibrahim had merely acted as 
his employer’s clerk, and so was not responsible for 
the sentiments which his letters contained, but 
merely for their expression, ‘Adud al-daulah de¬ 
manded atonement for the offence of composing 
them, and the atonement suggested was that he 


14 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

should write an official history of the Buwaihid 
dynasty. Much of this work is said to he embodied 
in Miskawaihi’s history, but the original has not yet 
been recovered, though some fragments of it are 
preserved in the Yatimah of Tha'alibi and the 
Ta’rikh Yamini of 'Uthi. Asked by some visitor 
what he was doing, Ibrahim when engaged on this 
work replied : “ Compiling packs of lies a state¬ 
ment which when it reached ‘Adud al-daulah's ears 
so infuriated him that he was with difficulty pre¬ 
vented from executing Ibrahim in terrible fashion. 
The work before publication was revised by ‘Adud 
al-daulah himself. The Ta’rikh Yamini or story 
of Yamin al-daulah’s campaigns in India by ‘IJtbi 
may also be classed with official histories : and the 
same may be said of the bombastic account of Salah 
al-din’s reconquest of Jerusalem by his Secretary 
‘Imad al-din Ispahani, who gave his work the boast¬ 
ful title ‘ The Qussite Victory on the Qudsite Vic¬ 
tory,’ i.e., the triumph of eloquence on the taking 
of Jerusalem. 

A series of official chronicles of the Caliphate 
would not have been destitute of value: but such 
works have a tendency to be jejune and untrust¬ 
worthy, as they coniine themselves to what the 
sovereign wishes to have recorded. 

For the most part the Arab historians write for 
the instruction of their countrymen, and though 
they at times are influenced by religious or patriotic 
bias, their general impartiality is a striking feature 
of their work. We could have no better illustra¬ 
tion of this than the history of Miskawaihi. He 
was during the whole of his career in the employ of 



'conspectus of the subject 


15 


viziers of the Buwaihid Sultans, Muhallabi vizier of 
Mu‘izz al-daulah and Ibn al-‘Amid vizier of Rukn 
al-daulah; then directly in the employ of ‘Adud al- 
daulah himself and his son Balia al-daulah : it 
might have been expected that he would refrain 
from censorious comment on the actions of these 
Sultans, since in spite of the serious quarrels which 
arose in the second generation the honour of the 
family was involved in the deeds of the founders. 
There is no trace of any such partiality in Miska- 
waihi’s work. The persons on whom he bestows 
eulogies which perhaps are excessive are the viziers 
Muhallabi and Ibn al-‘Amid, long dead when his 
history was produced; the tale of the founders of the 
dynasty is told with no attempt at concealing their 
crimes, and in the case of Mu'izz al-daulah vehement 
condemnation of them. His estimate of ‘Adud al- 
daulah is judicial: lie calls attention to the merits 
of his administration, due, he thinks, to the instruc¬ 
tion of Ibn al-‘Amid I; and hopes that the services 
which he rendered to the state will be some counter¬ 
poise to the crimes of which he was guilty. To 
Rukn al-daulah he attributes certain virtues, which 
it seems this Sultan possessed; but he charges Rukn 
al-daulah with sacrificing the interests of his sub¬ 
jects to a Quixotic sense of loyalty to his friends. 
He makes something of a hero of Abu’l-Haija, a 
member of the Hamdanid family, which was cons¬ 
tantly in feud with the Buwaihids. It is curious 
that the encomium passed by Abu Shuja’ two cen¬ 
turies later on ‘Adud al-daulah is enthusiastic, 
whereas Miskawaihi, who served him, is so calm 
and judicial. 




16 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


Tabari is more of a collector of traditions than 
a historian, but his work is characterized by similar 
want of partisanship. Tf lie expresses admiration 
for the military talents of Mu'tadid, it seems clear 
that it was earned; though he wrote under that 
Caliph, his work exhibits nothing comparable to the 
adulation of Ibn al-Mu'tazz. One might have ex¬ 
pected that the ‘Abbasid Caliphs would have been 
jealous of their ancestors’ honour', whence it would 
have been desirable to conceal their weaknesses or 
declensions from the paths of virtue : but it would 
be difficult to show evidence of this motive working 
in Tabari’s Chronicle. 

The reason must be found in the fact that most 
of these writers composed their histories not as 
court chroniclers, but as persons whose tastes led 
them to pursue studies of this kind. Tabari him¬ 
self was a landed proprietor, whose father had 
enabled him.in the earlier part of his life to travel 
far and wide in order to acquire the knowledge 
which he afterwards utilized in lectures and com¬ 
pilations : he lived afterwards on rents which used 
to be brought him by the pilgrim caravans from 
Tabaristan, where his estates were. The historian 
Dinawari was a judge, the profession also followed 
by Tanukbi. Several historians, such as Mis- 
kawaihi and Hilal belonged to the Katib estate : 
they were employed in public bureaux. Abu Shuja’ 
was a retired vizier. 

Ribera has called attention to the fact that 
there was no public organization of education till 
the time of the Seljuqid vizier Nizam al-Mulk, 
founder of the Nizamiyah College; till then educa- 



CONSPECTUS OF THE SUBJECT 


17 


tion was left to private enterprise. With this we 
may combine the fact that the writing of history 
was also in the main left to private enterprise. We 
might call the historians professors of history in 
the etymological sense of the word : persons who 
undertook to provide information on the subject, 
not persons who were engaged by some person or 
body to provide it. And, as we have seen and shall 
have further occasion to observe, they were in the 
first place teachers, and more or less accidentally 
writers. 

Where the historian was not a man of private 
means, it would seem that he could count on remu¬ 
neration from students who desired to have access 
to information which he could provide, though on 
this matter our authorities are curiously uncommu¬ 
nicative. We have however enough in the way of 
allusions to make it clear that the instruction given 
by those who formed circles in the Mosques or held 
classes in their own homes was normally remunera¬ 
ted; though occasionally wealthy teachers like the 
theologian Jubba’i furnished students with the 
means to attend out of their private resources. 

Thirdly we note certain methods devised by the 
Arabic historians for ensuring accuracy in the re¬ 
cord of events. One is dating them by the year 
and month, and even the day. The historian of 
Civilization, Buckle, states that this practice in 
Europe is not earlier than 1597 A.D. Among Arab 
historians we find it developed in Tabari and an ear¬ 
lier author, al-Haythan b. 'Adi, born 130 A.H., is 
credited with a history arranged in order of years. 
For such a purpose an era was necessary, and it is 

3, 


18 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


asserted that the practice of dating by the Prophet’s 
Hijrah was introduced by the second Caliph. The 
record of year and month is found in one of the pre- 
Islamic chronicles to which attention will soon be 
called. According to Jawliqi, who collected the 
foreign words introduced into Arabic, the name for 
history ta'rikh means properly “ assigning the 
month,” being an Arabic formation from the 
Syriac word for “ month ” It is curious that this 
should be so, for though the substantive is not found 
in the Arabic of the North, its analogue is used in 
the dialect of the South, and indeed in the form 
warehhy which should give taurikh. The same 
group of letters is found in a Phoenician inscription, 
some centuries earlier than our era, where some 
scholars render it by “ date;” the text is however 
too imperfect to enable us to assign it a certain sig¬ 
nification. If the Arabic word really means 
“ assigning the month,” it is more likely that it is 
to be traced to the old Arabic warckh than to the 
Syriac, and the change from w to liamzah is not 
without parallels. But it might be conjectured 
that the word is foreign and means “ years,” or 
“ annals.” 

Of course neither the Greek nor the Roman ^ 
historians, nor the Biblical writers keep quite clear 
of dates : and the Roman historians have a fixed era 
which is less clumsy than the Greek system. It is 
clear that the Islamic Calendar, though defective in 
the extreme for purposes of administration, was 
singularly well suited for the recording of events, 
since the number of the days in each year was 
accurately fixed, and the months were perfect luna- 



CONSPECTUS OF THE SUBJECT it) 

tions, without intercalation. And since the Mus¬ 
lim year is not a revolution of the sun, as the 
ancients would have called it, but a group of twelve 
lunations, it must be admitted that the term 
“ monthing ” for dating is singularly appropriate. 

The second expedient for securing exactitude 
is the isnad, the chain of authorities whereby a nar¬ 
rative can be traced to the original eye-witness who 
narrated it. In the case of the sayings and doings 
of the Prophet this study has furnished a science: 
it consists in testing the links whereby each tradi¬ 
tion has reached the men of any age. From this 
study many others have diverged : one who reads 
the geographical dictionary of Yaqut must perceive 
that the real function of his gazetteer is to enable 
the traditionalist to trace each transmitter of tradi¬ 
tions to his home. Sam'ani's great work on ansdb, 
the meaning of nisbahs , is an aid to the tracing of 
traditionalists. And by similar ways the study of 
history diverges from that of Tradition : at the first 
the students of both were identical: gradually his¬ 
tory becomes a distinct discipline, and the akhbari 
becomes a different person from the muhadditli and 
it may be added, inferior to him in estimation. Yet 
the notion that each narrative, in order to be trust¬ 
worthy, should be traceable through a known series 
of transmitters to its source pervades historical com¬ 
position till quite late times. There are books of 
which the content seems so frivolous that one mar¬ 
vels at the trouble taken to record the name of each 
transmitter and the date and place at which he heard 
the narrative; an example is 'the Ma^ri'al-'Ushshaq 
of ul-Sarraj, a collection of cases wherein men or 


20 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

women are supposed to have died of love, where the 
author records with minute accuracy the date at 
which he heard the story and gives similar details 
for the transmitters. There are books in the same 
style of which the statements are so clearly menda¬ 
cious that one marvels at the audacity of the fabri¬ 
cation. But though the theory of the Isnad has 
occasioned endless trouble, owing to the inquiries 
which have to be made into the trustworthiness of 
each transmitter, and the fabrication of traditions 
was a familiar and at times easily tolerated practice, 
its value in making for accuracy cannot be ques¬ 
tioned, and the Muslims are justified in taking pride 
in their science of tradition. In other ancient re¬ 
cords we have to take what is told us on the author’s 
assertion: it is rare that a Greek or Roman his¬ 
torian tells us the source of his information. Ger¬ 
man researchers especially have written much on 
“ criticism of the sources,” endeavouring to trace 
the narratives of Biblical writers and others to the 
materials whence they were obtained. Where those 
materials no longer exist, such endeavours can at 
best provide plausible hypotheses. In the works of 
Tabari, Baladhuri and Tanukhi the writers them¬ 
selves spare us this trouble. And those who are 
interested in the narratives rather than anxious 
about their source ordinarily pass over the Isnad. 

That many causes combined to frustrate 
the efforts of those who tried to secure 
accuracy in this way may be admitted. Rirst of 
these is the untrustworthiness of the human 
memory, of which even persons famed for their re¬ 
tentiveness furnish examples. Secondly the diffi- 



CONSPECTUS OP THE SUBJECT 21 

culty which many find in observing accurately and 
distinguishing between fact and the product of the 
imagination : whence Nietzsche asserted that un¬ 
civilized man lives a kind of dream life, wherein 
fancy furnishes in explanation of experiences pic¬ 
tures which have no relation to reality. Thirdly 
the notion that something actually happened be¬ 
cause in the narrator’s opinion it ought to have 
happened affects the veracity of many a recorder of 
events. Reconstruction of ancient history is often 
even in our own time and in critical Europe con¬ 
ducted • on this principle. Fourthly among the 
countless transmitters of traditions there was a pro¬ 
portion of unscrupulous persons, who perverted or 
fabricated intentionally. Nevertheless the veracity 
of the most eminent among the Arab historians 
attains a high stardard and renders their works of 
great service to humanity. 


LECTURE II. 


Pre-Islamic History. 

That Arabic history owes nothing to Greek 
history and little, if anything, to Persian history, 
seems clear: but it also appears to be independent 
of pre-Islamic Arabian chronicles. We have the 
dictum “ Poetry is the diwan of the Arabs,” i.e., 
the register of their deeds: this was the record of 
the Days of the Arabs, i.e., the battles between the 
tribes. That dictum which appears to be fairly 
early, implies that there were no other chronicles 
for the Hijaz: and this is confirmed by the 
evidence of the Qur’an, which frequently charges 
the Meccans with illiteracy. Pre-Islamic in¬ 
scriptions in the Arabic which the Qur’an 
rendered classical are extremely rare: so rare 
that they seem rather experiments at writing 
a language which was not used for that 
purpose than examples of a familiar practice : for 
one of these is in another Semitic script. The 
Nabataean texts found by Doughty in Northern ^ 
Arabia are in an Aramaic dialect curiously mixed 
with Arabic words and idioms. There is a near ap¬ 
proach to classical Arabic in certain confessional 
tablets found in S. Arabia in the Himyari or old Ara¬ 
bic script; otherwise the copious epigraphic finds 
made by explorers in N. Arabia belong to other dia¬ 
lects, and are of great interest for the variety of the 


w 



PRE-ISLAMIC HISTORY 23 

scripts employed, but scarcely indicate the existence 
of literature. 

Nor indeed does the character of the pre- 
Lslamic legends embodied in such works as Azraqi's 
History of Meccah, Tabari’s and Yaqut’s pre- 
Islamic histories, and the vast collections preserved 
in the Aghani indicate the existence of anything 
worthy to be called a chronicle. Even documents 
professedly belonging to this period, which are 
sometimes produced, arouse a good deal of suspicion. 
One such document is inserted in his Chronicle by 
the historian Dinawari. Near the end of the 
Umayyad period one Kirmani wrote to a descendant 
of Abrahah ibn al-Sabbah, the last (he says) of the 
Himyari Kings, who dwelt in Kufah, asking him 
for a copy of the treaty between Rabi'ah and Yemen 
in pagan times, and this person sent him a copy : 
which Kirmani read out in public to the notables of 
Rabi'ah and Yemen. The document is in rhymed 
prose and contains allusions to various pagan cere¬ 
monies, though it starts with the invocation “ In 
the name of Allah the Exalted, the mightiest, the 
glorious, the beneficent..” and calls to witness 
“ God the Highest, who doeth what He will.” The 
king before whom the treaty was written is called 
Tubba‘ son of Malkikarib : it does not state what 
his relation to the confederates was. 

Dinawari’s history is, as will presently be seen, 
a work of little authority, hence this document may 
not be much older than the historian, as seems to be 
the case with many of the verses and letters with 
which he illustrates his narrative : indeed there are 
justifiable doubts wdiether the ascription of the work 


24 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


itself to Dinawari is correct. The historical diffi¬ 
culties which attach to the document are very con¬ 
siderable, even though its archaeology may be 
correct, when it states how the blood of the con¬ 
federating tribes was mixed with wine, and drunk by 
both parties, and their nails and forelocks clipped, 
and these relics collected in a sack and sunk in deep 
water : for there is evidence for the employment of 
such rites in the solemnization of treaties. But 
the employment of classical Arabic in rhymed prose 
which is faultless is most surprising in such a docu¬ 
ment. We should expect it to be in one of the 
dialects in use for monuments till near the rise of 
Islam. And similar doubts exist in other cases 
wherein pre-Islamic compositions in prose are pro¬ 
duced by historians or archaeologists. In this case 
it is noticeable that the place where the treaty was 
ratified is not mentioned, though this would seem 
to be a matter of importance. The month al-asam, 
a name applied to Kejeb, is mentioned, but not the 
year. 

If by any chance the document were genuine, 
many of our notions would have to be revised : for 
the historian does not speak of this treaty as a 
unique example of such a document being preserved 
from Pagan times, but as though it were quite 
natural that such pre-Islamic deeds should be pre¬ 
served somewhere : and from a collection of such 
treaties certain and to some extent continuous of his¬ 
tory might be put together. The historians of this 
period do not indeed complain, as Moses of Khorene 
the Armenian historian complains, that chronicles 
are wanting : they are too firmly convinced that the 



PRE-ISLAMIC HISTORY 


25 


proper transmission of history is by oral communica¬ 
tion to notice their absence. They might more 
easily have recognized that a gulf separated them 
from that pre-Islamic history, but allusions to this 
matter are rare. Even where there were records of 
a sort, Muslims were at first anxious to forget them : 
they belonged to a past, on which they had turned 
their backs. As will be seen, the exploits which 
the monuments recorded were exploits of pagan 
deities, now become what the Israelites would call 
abominations. But Islam had also occasioned a 
vast migration, and what the migrants brought 
with them was the new religion, little or nothing 
connected with the old. 

To the first of these causes for the vagueness 
of pre-Islamic history as it appears in the Arabic 
collections attention will be called later. The 
second cause, migration and immigration, must 
have powerfully contributed to this result. Medi- 
nah, as we learn from the jurist Shaft*i and others, 
counted as the home of learning : yet that learning 
scarcely went back beyond the Prophet’s arrival, 
for that event caused a radical change in the popula¬ 
tion of the place. Many of the older inhabitants 
removed : the city became crowded with immigrants 
who bad adopted Islam. The early conquests of 
the Caliphs were immediately followed, or rather 
accompanied by tribal migrations : the tribes main¬ 
tained their isolation to some extent and for fairly 
long periods in their new homes. Cases wherein 
the migrants had records and carried those records 
with them must have been exceptional, if they 
existed at all. In South Arabia there were historical 
4 


26 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


inscriptions wherein kings recorded their wars and 
enactments, and at times the resolutions of their 
assemblies. The only question is whether besides 
records on copper and stone which could only be 
read in the place where they were set up, they also 
had literature, i.e., copies of the same text multi¬ 
plied on some less cumbrous material, such as 
papyrus, parchment, or palm-leaf. One modern 
traveller hints at the existence of such texts, but his 
notice is vague and has not been verified. A Ger¬ 
man student of the S.A. inscriptions regards it as 
a matter of certainty that such literature must have 
existed, and indeed the Aghani mentions Himyari 
texts on some portable material: however this 
matter must be left for the present undecided. 
What the discovery and decipherment of the in¬ 
scriptions shows is that in these regions the practice 
of recording events existed from time immemorial. 

Of Arabic authors two only seem to have in¬ 
terested themselves in these monuments : Hamdani, 
the author of a description of the Arabian peninsula, 
and a treatise on the towers and fortresses there : a 
work of which only a small portion has as yet come 
to light: and Nashwan the Himyari, the author of 
a dictionary which occasionally throws light on the 
language of these texts. Some inscriptions which 
w'ere studied by Hamdani are still in existence. 
Quotations are occasionally made from poems sup¬ 
posed to be in the South Arabian language by gram¬ 
marians, who have preserved certain grammatical 
forms of which some are attested by the inscriptions, 
whereas others are certainly correct, though hitherto 
no inscription has any example of them. The 


PRE-ISLAMIC HISTORY 


27 


first copies of such texts were brought to Europe bv 
English officers and travellers, Wellstcd and Crut- 
tendcn. The first person who interpreted them 
with any degree of correctness was a German, 
Osiander, whose work was posthumously published. 
He naturally committed many errors, duo to identi¬ 
fications of Sabacan with classical Arabic usage. 
Thus he renders certain formulae by “ because the 
God heard his request,” whereas the true sense is 
“ Commanded by his oracle.” Great collections of 
inscriptions or copies of them were made by the 
French savant Hal&vy and the Austrian traveller 
Glaser. Four dialects speedily revealed themselves, 
being the language of the four South Arabian king¬ 
doms whose existence had been noticed by the 
Greek investigators: the dialects however could be 
sorted into two groups, called the S group and the 
H group according to the employment of these letters 
respectively for certain prefixes and suffixes. The 
progress of the study can be traced in the slowly ap¬ 
pearing fasciculi of the French Corpus Inscrip- 
tiorurn, where the Himyari section has passed 
through three editors’ hands, and of which the con¬ 
tinuation is eagerly expected. 

Of the four chief Kingdoms to which these texts 
belong—for the number of Kingdoms is actually 
considerably larger—one still retains its name as a 
province or region of Arabia—Hodramaut, already 
mentioned in the Old Testament. Saba is often 
mentioned there also, though its location seems to 
be quite different from that which the texts assume. 
The Minaens, or Ma'in are less known, but have 
left traces in the Biblical record. The Qataban are 




28 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

known to the Greeks, but otherwise external history 
is silent about them. Yet the texts which this 
kingdom lias furnished are far richer in archaeolo¬ 
gical information than the others. When the 
difficulties of grammar and vocabulary are solved, 
if ever that takes place, we shall know more about 
the institutions of the Qatabanian republic than 
about any other of these states, though perhaps less 
about their prowess in war. 

We may cal! many of the inscriptions histori¬ 
cal records, though normally the form which they 
take is to give the reason why some votive offering 
was presented to a god. Such inscriptions com¬ 
mence with the name or names of the donors and an 
account or list of the services whereby the deity had 
earned such a gift. These are frequently personal 
services : winning them the favour of their patrons 
is a very common cause for gratitude. Success in 
mercantile ventures, recovery of health, the securing 
of crops and water-supply, are often recorded in 
such monuments. 

Texts of this sort, and many of those which 
were at first discovered and brought to Europe, be¬ 
long to this category, and cannot of course be termed 
historical : though the light which they throw on 
social and even political conditions is often consi¬ 
derable, and the proper names which they preserve 
are in many ways instructive : there are, however, 
texts, sometimes quite lengthy, which deal with 
matters affecting the kings and the whole commu¬ 
nity, and these deserve the appellation historical. 
Not many of these have been actually brought away 
from their original sites : we depend for our know- 


PRE-ISLAMIC HISTORY 


29 


ledge of them on copies and squeezes. In a few 
cases we are fortunate enough to have a whole 
group of inscriptions dealing with either the same 
events or a series of them : from the latter it is pos¬ 
sible to put together tables of dynasties and in some 
cases to ascertain the events which marked the rise, 
the extension, or the lapse of dynasties. As might 
be expected from the policy of these states, they 
deal exclusively with internal affairs; they record 
internecine struggles between the Arabian com¬ 
munities, and only after the Abyssinian interven¬ 
tion can they be brought into connexion with 
foreign affairs. They are curiously free from bom¬ 
bast and, it would appeal', exaggeration. We may 
take as an example C. I. H. 1450 : Certain persons 
whose names have fallen out dedicated a golden 
statue to their patron Ta'lab Riyam, or Ta'allab 
Riyam : the word patron appears to signify some 
minor form of deity. 

“ Because he helped the tribe IJashid in the. 
city of Na‘d against the tribes of Himyar. Two 
hundred troops proceeded and raided as far as the 
land of Himyar, where they slew a man. Also be¬ 
cause a hundred and fifty troops advanced to Mard 
in the territory of Alban, where they captured two 
men. Also because fifty advanced into the province 
Dalg, where they slew a man. Also because they 

attacked the Habashah in the province.and 

slew therein a man. Also because a troop of 
Bedouin, a hundred and ten warriors, advanced 
against Barak, and slew therein a man. Also be¬ 
cause his lords, the Banun Hamdan presented him 
with their horses, and by reason of that gift he slew 




30 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


two panthers, and all who.in this.” The 

author then proceeds to some personal blessings 
which lie has received or for which he prays. 

Another lengthy inscription of the same type 
is C. I. H. 334 of which the first lines are also lost, 
but which records a list of services rendered by the 
same deity Ta’lab Riyam. Some offering, probab¬ 
ly a golden statue, was set up in his honour by Sa'd 
Ahras, son of Ghadab, who is mentioned later on, 
because the patron 

“ protected them in the expeditions which they 
undertook in aid of then lord Sha'r Autar King of 
Saba and Raidan, son of Alhan Nabfan, King of 
Saba, and because he saved their lord Sh'ar Autor 
and his two hosts, Sabaean and Himyari, when 
they went to war with H-‘azz King of Hadramaut, 
and the Hadramites, his garrison (?): when he 
routed U-‘azz and all his garrison in the province 
Dhat Ghurab. 

Now' Sa'd son of Ghadab was appointed by his 
lord Sha‘h Autar to survey the King’s camp and the 
two hosts : and he set him over two hundred warriors 
of the tribe Humlan. Now the tribe Radman 
attacked the camp on the day whereon they ad¬ 
vanced : but Sa'd Ahras son of Ghadab advanced 
against them with all who had come with him from 
the tribe Humlan, and they drove the tribe Radman 
from the camp with utter destruction; whereas the 
camp of their lord Sha'r Autar and his two hosts 
were safe and sound. 

Further in gratitude for that Ta’lab Riyam 
healed his servant Sa'd Ahras, son of Ghadab, of two 
wounds which he received when he attacked the 





PRE-I8LAMTC HISTORY 


31 


tribe Rodman at the camp. And may lie continue 
to protect and save the lord Slia'r Autar in his two 
cities, Min vat mid Saw war. Further Sa‘d, son of 
Ghadab, praised the power and might of Ta’lab 
Riyam, lord of Tur'ah, because their lord Sha'r 
Autar with his two hosts returned in safety from all 
these engagements: and out of gratitude for that 
Ta’lab granted his servant Sa‘d safe return, and 
goods and captives and booty, which satisfied them. 
And may Ta’lab ” etc. 

As will be seen from these texts the main pur¬ 
pose of the inscription is votive, to render thanks to 
a particular deity: the reason is then recorded, 
which becomes of historical importance when the 
service was of a public character, as in those cases 
where the help given was in war. In the second 
inscription of the Mount of Marib we come nearer 
a genuinely historical document since the record 
does not form part of a thanksgiving to a deity. It 
belongs to the. Christian period, i.e., the Abyssinian 
occupation, and starts with a Christian invocation.* 

“ In the power and grace and mercy of the 
Rahman and His Christ and the Holy Spirit. This 
monument was inscribed by Abrahah, representa¬ 
tive of the Abyssinian King Ramhis Zubaiman, 
King of Saba and Dhu Raidan, Hadramaut and 
Yemenat, and their Bedouin on the mountain and 
in the Tihamah. And he inscribed this stone when 
Yazid son of Kabshat had been appointed overseer 
and acted contrary to his undertaking. He had 
been appointed Khalifah (viceroy) over certain 


* Rco Glaser's Reisc nacli Marib, 1913, p. 14S, 



32 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


tribes, and besides tbe Khilafat was commander of 
the forces. And with him were a number of tribes 
and princes (who are enumerated). And when 
the King sent Garih Dim Zabmlr on tour by the 
king’s order in the Eastern country, lie was slain 
by this Yazid.” After describing some further acts 
of this Yazid the narrative proceeds : “ Then the 
King heard the news, and the Abyssinians and 
Himyaritcs gathered together in their thousands in 
the month Dhu Qiyazan of the year 657, they des¬ 
cended into the valleys of Saba, and ranged them¬ 
selves from Sirwah above Nabat as far as ‘Abaran, 
and when they reached Nabat they despatched their 
bowmen against the tribe...Aiwa, which submitted.” 
Shortly after this Yazid returned to his allegiance, 
when the news spread that the dam had burst. 
Certain military details follow and then the repair 
of the dam is described in detail. 

This inscription, which is of 136 lines, dated 
65S-543 A.D., is in an extremely difficult dialect. 
The cumbrousness of the style may be only apparent, 
due to our very imperfect acquaintance with its 
language, or to the fact that elegance had not been 
attained in this dialect. It represents an advance 
on the earlier type, where the purpose was not the 
recording of events, but to explain why an offering 
had been made to a deity. In the Abrahah inscrip¬ 
tion it is clearly the author’s intention to record im¬ 
portant events. It is very noticeable that this mode 
of recording them was not safe. In a lengthy and 
important inscription recently published the king, 
its author, explains how he removed all the inscrip¬ 
tions (astur) which a defeated king had inscribed in 



PRE-ISLAMIC HISTORY 


33 


his palaces and temples. These must have con¬ 
tained the records of a little known kingdom, 
Ausan. 

It is observable that in the Abrahah inscription 
the events are dated by month and year, without day 
of month being specified. This would seem to agree 
with the ordinary derivation of the word ta'rilch , 
which the etymologists suppose to come from a 
Syriac word for month irah. 

Even a glance at these inscriptions shows us 
why early Muslims could have no interest in such 
records of their past. For, as we see, what they 
record directly is not tribal or national history, but 
the service rendered by a fictitious deity, rewarded 
by a pagan rite. The very names of the deities 
could only occasion horror or ridicule: and the 
offerings of images would evoke the same sentiments. 
If it be true that between the pagan and the Christ¬ 
ian periods Judaism prevailed in South Arabia, the 
attitude of that religion towards both pagan deities 
and images of all sorts is not less hostile than that of 
early Islam : the population would have been taught 
to repudiate such monuments long before Islam 
became dominant. The Christian inscriptions of 
which the historical and linguistic importance can 
scarcely be overrated by the modern student, would 
likewise be odious : for it is clear that the Abyssinian 
domination left no gratitude or agreeable recollec¬ 
tions in South Arabia : the exploit of Saif ibn Dhi’l- 
Yazan in ousting these invaders with Persian aid 
was regarded with pride and gratitude : the Prophet’s 
grandfather ‘Abdal-Muttalib is supposed to have 
headed a deputation to Yemen to congratulate the 
5 


34 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


conqueror, and archeologists claim to have preserved 
the oration which he delivered on that occasion. 
Modern science which has not to fear any recrude¬ 
scence of obsolete pagan cults may however attach 
high value to documents which from the nature of 
the circumstances were relegated to obscurity when 
Islam arose. 

Owing to the large number of inscriptions which 
have been found and copied in South Arabia, and 
belong to different kingdoms and different dynasties, 
many awaiting publication, while it is likely that 
others remain to be discovered, it has been possible 
to piece- together the history of this region in a 
manner which before these discoveries began could 
not have been anticipated. It is noticeable that the 
Himaryi alphabet, as it is called, seems to have been 
in use all over the Arabian peninsula, since recent 
finds have been made of inscriptions in this script 
in N. E. Arabia, neighbourhood of Kuwait, and 
in N. W. Arabia, neighbourhood of Mada’in Salih, 
where indeed many scripts have been discovered. Yet 
it is only in South Arabia that historical inscriptions 
having something of the value of chronicles have 
been unearthed. It may be that the political orga¬ 
nization of this region was more highly developed, 
and operations generally conducted on a greater 
scale than in the other provinces of the peninsula, 
where the texts which have emerged are either 
gravestones or lists of proper names or votive in¬ 
scriptions on a modest scale. 

If the acts of kings and public assemblies count 
as history, we might include in the historical in¬ 
scriptions those which record assignations of various 



PRE-ISLAMIC HISTORY 


35 


sorts, such as lands to the gods or privileges to parti¬ 
cular classes, or the incidence of taxation or regula¬ 
tion of water-right. It is unfortunate that the 
language in most cases offers very serious difficul¬ 
ties : we have neither grammar nor dictionary, and 
it depends on accident whether a word occurs in a 
sufficient number of different contexts to enable us 
to ascertain its sense with any sort of precision. 
Further, though in the case of one of the kingdoms, 
Ausan, we not only possess some inscriptions, but 
a scries of inscribed statuettes which perpetuate the 
form of several members of the royal family, the 
extent of these pre-Islamic states, owing to changes 
of local names, is very uncertain. The geographer 
Strabo, to whom we owe an account of the unfor¬ 
tunate expedition of Aelius Gallus, observes the 
rapidity with which local names change in Arabia 
and the geographical difficulties which result. 

So long as these inscriptions existed, and the 
language in which they were composed was known, 
the materials for chronicles existed even if no actual 
chronicles were composed. And as has been seen, 
the pre-Islamic Arabs of the South had an era , 
which is of primary importance for recording events. 
The era was identified by Glaser as synchronizing 
with 115 B.C., doubtless some important epoch in 
the history of the Sabaean state. And though many 
of the inscriptions which have been noticed are 
without date, continuity could be obtained from the 
name of the kings, who usually mention their 
fathers and sometimes their grandfathers, or even 
earlier ancestors. 



36 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


Perhaps it may be said that the history which 
can be enucleated from these texts will in some res¬ 
pects be less weighty, in others more varied, than 
what is furnished by the Muslim chronicles. The 
texts which have been taken as illustrations indicate 
operations on a trivial scale: if the phrase ‘ ‘ slew' 
a man ” be rightly rendered, the campaigns re¬ 
corded would be on no greater a scale than the 
tribal raids of which the Hamasnh and similar works 
preserve records. In the petty wars between the 
ancient Greek republics the casualty lists used 
usually to run into hundreds or at least decades. But 
the Qutabanian inscriptions published and inter¬ 
preted by Rhodokanakis reveal a complicated politi¬ 
cal system which is by no means suggestive of primi¬ 
tive tribal organization. In them we read of deli¬ 
berative and legislative assemblies, to which we find 
analogies in the constitutions of the Hellenic states. 
What Rhodokanakis calls “ the principle of publi¬ 
city,” the practice of inscribing the acts of these 
assemblies on stone and placing them where they 
could be publicly read, implies that we here have to 
do with a literary community, with political institu¬ 
tions exhibiting a sort of development which could 
only have been attained through stages.of which it 
may be possible to recover the story. 

While these inscriptions offer opportunity for 
fascinating investigations into various departments 
of law and politics, they also furnish precious infor¬ 
mation about the religions of the old states and some 
light on the preparation for Islam which took place 
in the Southern regions of the peninsula. When 
archaeology arose in Umayyad and early ‘Abbasid 



PRE-ISLAM1C HISTORY 


3? 


days, endeavours were made to reconstruct the old 
pagan cults, and a monument of such attempts is to 
be found in the Book of Idols by Ibn al-Kalbi, who 
will meet us later. The gods worshipped in South 
Arabia were not the same as those of the Hijaz, 
some of whom we can identify in the Nabataean 
epigraphy of the North. In the epigraphy of the 
South, deities repeatedly meet us, whose names we 
are unable to pronounce, and classess of deities, 
whose relative rank we are unable at present 
to ascertain. To them, as has been seen, 
successes in war are ascribed; hence the annals are, 
as has been noticed, records of offerings or monu¬ 
ments which they had earned by their services. 
Something can be made out about the organization 
of the cults; about persons more closely connected 
than others with the worship; about their oracles, 
and the mode whereby answers to questions could 
be procured : at times highly complicated and indi¬ 
cating intricate relations between different shrines. 
It would seem that here as in Greece the gods were 
the progenitors of the kings. 

What a mass of historical information can be 
evolved from texts which w r ere not intended to fur¬ 
nish it! The dominance over the whole peninsula 
of one alphabet, excellently adapted to the language 
which employed it, is sufficient to furnish inferences 
of importance. Either the whole peninsula must 
have come at some time under the domination of 
one literary community, or some community must- 
have acquired intellectual predominance and so edu¬ 
cated the others. What ancient Greece knew of 
Arabia was obtained either from travellers’ tales or 



38 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


from scientific exploration organized at the time of 
Alexander the Great, and obtaining information 
which the inscriptions show to be curiously exact. 
But the finds of coins and statuettes indicate a closer 
connexion with classical Greece than was remem¬ 
bered by Greek historians. The influence of Athens 
shows itself in the coins discovered in Yemen : and 
it is apparent in the sculpture, which However 
resembles the pre-classical rather than the classical 
art. Images of kings, reliefs of animals and birds, 
are not uncommon, some well executed: images of 
gods and goddesses have not as yet been found. 
Remains of temples and palaces, and inscriptions 
which once belonged to them furnish traces of archi¬ 
tectural monuments conceived on a vast scale. 

To the Biblical student the language and the 
proper names of the inscriptions offer the solution 
to many problems. Words and phrases meet us here 
which the classical Arabic fails to recognize, but 
which recur in the old language of Palestine. 
Names which in the Biblical record have lost their 
meaning, and at times have been erroneously inter¬ 
preted, here find a simple explanation. Old names 
of Arabian deities are found to lurk in Hebrew ap¬ 
pellations where their presence was absolutely un¬ 
suspected : even the nomenclature of the New 
Testament furnishes an illustration of this. Kleopas 
or Halfai is like Mordecai called after a pagan god. 

But, as has been seen, there comes a time when 
the old gods disappear from the inscriptions and for 
them is substituted the monotheistic name Rahman, 
which dominates some early Surahs of the Qur'an, 



PRE-ISLAMIC HISTORY 


39 


and in a yet later inscription, near the commence¬ 
ment of Islam, Christian formulae are introduced. 
The scanty relics which have as yet come to light of 
monotheistic inscriptions are of the utmost interest 
especially for their anticipations of Qur'anic 
terminology, though, as has been seen, the paganism 
of the earlier texts bears no clear relation to the paga¬ 
nism which the Qur'an controverts. The tradition 
supposes the monotheism which preceded Christia¬ 
nity in South Arabia to have been Judaism, and 
Christian records in Greek even preserve debates be¬ 
tween Christians and Jews supposed to have been 
held in these regions. Yet the monotheism of the 
inscriptions shows little trace of Judaism : we are 
scarcely justified in identifying the two. Possibly the 
dominance of some monotheistic system in South 
Arabia before the enforcement of Christianity by the 
Abyssinian invader is what explains the apparent 
facility with which Islam was adopted in this 
region. 

We have then the right to classify the authors of 
these ancient texts with Arabic historians, though 
the languages which they employ are not the Arabic 
of the Muslims, and we should gather that their 
authors would have rejected the appellation Arab, 
which with them appears to signify Bedouin. As 
has been seen, those which bear a date belong to a 
comparatively modern era : how far back beyond era 
115 B. C. those texts originate is a matter whereon 
there have been differences of opinion between ex¬ 
perts, as there have been on the succession and 
extent of the empires or states whose existence they 
reveal, some of which have left obscure traces in 



40 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


Biblical or classical records or cuneiform inscrip¬ 
tions. 

For the Muslim student who desires to be a 
traveller and explorer I can imagine no more fas¬ 
cinating field of research than South Arabia. 
Possibly the difficulties which are said to confront 
the European explorer in that country have been 
exaggerated : the reports of the travellers are quite 
inconsistent on this subject. Doubtless the Muslim 
traveller would be free from many of the embarrass¬ 
ments of which some travellers complain. It is hard 
to think that the few' European travellers who have 
visited this region can have exhausted its archaeolo¬ 
gical treasures, which are so copious and so varied, 
as compared, e.g., with what the Phoenician cities 
of Syria or the ancient metropolis Carthage have 
yielded. The obscure state of Qataban alone 
has left more monuments of its institutions, 
more acts of its parliaments and enactments 
of its kings, than the famous Sidon or the 
yet more famous Carthage. And the record 
engraved on stone or copper has about it something 
which brings us into more intimate relation with the 
past than the narrative transmitted orally through a 
series of generations or transferred from copy to copy 
by successive scribes. A poet, contrasting his 
encomia with the gifts w’hich he has received or 
hopes to receive says “ Poems last through all time, 
but gifts pass away.” In these cases the gifts of 
gratitude, however mistakenly directed, have not 
passed aw r ay, but lasted through the ages. 



LECTURE in. 


The Beginnings of Arabic History. 

For the vagueness and uncertainty with which 
Arabic historians treat the pre-Islamic period the 
chief reason is to be found in the maxim “ Islam 
cancels all that was before it.” There are anecdot¬ 
es wherein converts to Islam being asked by Umar 
to narrate some pre-Islamic experience or city some 
pre-Islamic verses, reply “ God has cancelled all 
that with Islam : why go back to it?” The notion 
that a new era having commenced, all that had pre¬ 
ceded should be consigned to oblivion, has occurred 
at other times, e.g., at the French Revolution. At 
the commencement of Islam it would appear to have 
prevailed. Hence it comes that the Arabic chroni¬ 
cles know practically nothing of the rather import¬ 
ant history which the inscriptions have revealed, 
and which the Graeco-Roman classics have pre¬ 
served. The defeat of the expedition of Aelius Gallus 
organized by Augustus was as great an exploit as 
the defeat of Napoleon’s Russian expedition. In 
the case of the latter the French authorities attribute 
their failure to the climate : Russian valour had 
nothing to do with it. We have however Russian 
accounts of the matter, and these tell a different tale. 
In the case of the Roman invasion we have only the 
Roman account, which asserts that the Arabs 
showed no fight whatever : the climate and physical 



42 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

conditions of Arabia ruined the invaders. If we had 
an Arab account, we might find a different story. 
We should at any rate have expected that so notable 
a victory would have been preserved in the memory 
of the inhabitants of Arabia: but this is not so. 
Of events which occurred fairly near the Prophet’s 
time the recollection is vague and distorted : since 
the inscription - found by Glaser at Marib, belonging 
• to the time of Abyssinian rule, records a repair of 
the dam effected at that time, it is clear that the 
importance attached by Arab writers to the bursting 
of that dam is seriously overrated. As one author 
remarks, the decay of a kingdom is likely to cause 
the bursting of a dam : the latter could not easily 
cause the former. The legends which account for 
the presence of Jewish colonists in Yathrib are 
obviously wild fiction : no one could say for certain 
whether they were Arabs who had Judaized—which 
perhaps the Qur’anic phrase implies—or Jews who 
had adopted the ways of Arabs. The his¬ 
tory of Meccah, and the history of Medina!), 
were the subject of monographs, but it may 
be inferred that there was nothing known about 
them till the Prophet’s time. The work of Azraqi, 
though early, is a collection of fables. 

Besides the maxim that Islam cancels all that 
was before it there was another principle which mili¬ 
tated against the preservation of records: this was 
the theory that no book save the Qur'an might be 
written. A Spanish writer,* Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr collects 
traditions on this subject: the larger number, which 


* See Mukhtasar Jfinii'Bayiin nlTIm (Cairo, 1320). 



=v-- 


THE BEGINNINGS OF ARABIC HISTORY 43 


JL 

l oHShe puts first, forbid it. There was to be no Book 
but the Book of God : at best a man might put 
something down as an aid to the memory, but when 
jrahe had got it by heart, he should burn his notes. 
J |I|Thc second Caliph was advised to have the Sunan of 
I j®the Prophet committed to writing: he reflected for 
• i % a whole month with prayer on the subject, and then 
; t forbade it. The very able Umayyad, ‘Abd al-Malik, 
found an account of the Prophet’s Companions in 
book form in the hands of one of his sons the 
; Caliph ordered that it should be burned. The lad 
’ was to read the Qur’an and learn the Sunan : no 
other form of study was to be permitted. 

Ibn Abd al-Barr cites some other traditions 
which contradict these : according to which writing 
was even commended by the Prophet. The pre¬ 
ponderance of opinion is however for the prohibi¬ 
tion : and we require such a rule to account for the 
late date at which prose composition begins. Ibn 
Abd al-Barr assigns two reasons for the prohibition. 
One is the retentiveness of the Arab memory, which 
rendered the committal of literary matter to some 
material unnecessary, as their memories were suffi¬ 
ciently tenacious to be able to dispense with such 
aids. The other is the fear of producing a rival to 
the Qur’an. Of these two reasons w r e may dismiss 
the first. There is no reason for crediting the 
Northern and Central Arabs with better memories 
than the Southerners, and in Yemen, as has been 
seen, the composition of historical inscriptions was 
a practice which had been followed for centuries. 
The second, fear of competition with the Qur’an, is 
likely to have been the real and adequate reason. 



44 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

And this was a principle taken over from the Jews, 
who, basing their inference on a passage of Ecclesias¬ 
tes, had forbidden the composition of fresh hooks, 
and for a number of centuries had no written litera¬ 
ture except the Old Testament. 

To these two maxims we must add two other 
considerations. As the importance of tradition in¬ 
creased, there grew up a profession of liuffaz, whose 
business it was to have accurate knowledge of events. 
That profession could not fail to suffer seriously if 
it were recognised as possible to obtain from a 
collection of books the knowledge which others took 
so much trouble to acquire. Before the notion of 
written literature became popular it might well seem 
credible that sheikhs in Nisabur or Isfahan were in 
possession of historical information which could 
only be procured from them; once all the learning 
was accessible in book form, these teachers’ wares 
would decrease in value. It is surprising that the 
mass of written material which began to accumulate 
after the rise of the ‘Abbasids did not affect the 
profession of the liuffaz. The authors of books, 
however, largely belonged to this profession them¬ 
selves, and a compromise was effected which was 
maintained for many centuries. This was the 
Ijazah, the doctrine that the book had to be com¬ 
municated to the reader by the author personally or 
by some authorized person: thus in Tabari’s time 
men went to hear the history and the commentary 
from him personally, and we know the names of 
persons who for two generations after his death were 
the authorized ruwdt or reciters of the history. 
Learning which was got from books without oral 



THE BEGINNINGS OF ARABIC HISTORY 45 


communication was discredited. In an anecdote 
which will meet us the learned Mada'ini loses in 
reputation because lie misreads a word; whence it 
was inferred that he knew the narrative by reading 
not by oral instruction. Men’s reputations depended 
on what their memory retained, not on what they 
had committed to writing. Tabari himself was 
found out, so to speak, by a far less famous man, 
the Qftdi Ibn al-Buhlul, when the two came to citing 
poems, the Qadi found that the retentiveness of 
Tabari’s memory was vastly inferior to his own. 
The historian and courtier Muhammad b. Yahya 
Suli had amassed a great library and when asked a 
question could immediately call for the volume 
which contained the answer. But this procedure 
evoked satirical verses; he ought to have been able to 
give the answers from his memory without consult¬ 
ing books. 

Secondly, the distrust of written books which 
persisted so long may have been due to 'the frequency 
of forgery. The historians record numerous cases 
of it: the letter produced by Mukhtar ibn Abi 
‘Ubaid as authorization for his proceedings given by 
Muhammad b. nl-Hanafiyyah was detected as a 
forgery by the jurist Sha'bi : according to one ac¬ 
count because the. seal was too fresh, according to 
another because this Muhammad did not call himself 
by the title contained in this document. According 
to Miskawaihi even the virtuous and competent 
•Muhallabi was not above resorting to forgery when 
it suited his purpose. The same historian tells an 
elaborate story of the forgery of oracles attributed to 
the prophet Daniel whereby a candidate for the 



46 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

vizierate won his way to office: and details are 
given of the process whereby a modern script could 
be given an appearance of antiquity which would 
escape detection. The caligraplier Ibn al-Bauwab 
won his way to eminence by imitating the script of 
Ibn Muqlali so well that no one could distinguish 
his work from that of the great Khattat. The fame 
won by the Khatib Baghdadi for detecting the spur¬ 
iousness of a deed supposed to have been written by 
order of the Prophet securing certain rights to the 
Jews of Ivhaibar indicates that there were few ex¬ 
perts in this sort of criticism. A familiar story 
which illustrates the generosity of the vizier Ibn al- 
Furat is to the effect that someone forged a letter of 
recommendation from him to a provincial gover¬ 
nor, who acted in accordance with its request, but 
communicated his suspicions of its genuineness to 
the vizier. The vizier declared that these sus¬ 
picions were groundless, and accepted the author¬ 
ship of the letter-: and afterwards took the forger 
into his service. 

That the historians in the period to which some 
of the most important belong actually preferred oral 
communications to written records follows from the 
extraordinary variety which appears in their reports 
of the same speeches or letters. One of the most 
famous of the Arab orations is that pronounced by 
the notorious Hajjaj on his entry into Kufah. Of 
this speech we have four nearly contemporary ac¬ 
counts, in the works of Jahiz, Mubarrad, Tabari, 
and Baladhuri. ' The first two of these are interest¬ 
ed in the language, the two latter in the historical 
content. All four accounts, while containing 



THE BEGINNINGS OF XRABIC HISTORY 47 

much the same matter, differ seriously in the order 
. of the sentences, in many of the phrases, and each 
as compared with the others has some additions or 
omissions. There is a document of extreme im¬ 
portance as the foundation of judicial practice the 
instructions of the second Caliph to a qadi whom lie 
had appointed. We have numerous copies of this 
brief charge, but there are serious differences be¬ 
tween all the copies. If those who reproduced these 
documents had copied earlier texts they would be 
inexcusable if they had either by carelessness or 
arbitrarily made these alterations : the differences 
are excusable if they trusted to oral communications. 
Authors who produce copies of letters to the originals 
•of which they might have had access tell us at times 
that they are quoting from memory. 

The theories then which stood in the way of 
written literature arising were (1) the maxim that 
Islam cancelled all that was before it, (2) the doc¬ 
trine that there should be no written book except 
the Qur’an, (3) that the profession of huffaz ren¬ 
dered written books superfluous, (4) that written 
documents were untrustworthy. 

. • All those theories had in time to be modified. 
(1) The interpretation of the Qur’an rendered cer¬ 
tain historical knowledge indispensable. It fre¬ 
quently, especially during the Medinah period, deals 
with current events: presently a whole discipline 
called Occasions of revelation dealt with the fixing of 
the occasions in connexion with which texts were re¬ 
vealed. The texts which deal with current events 
are very largely allusive, avoiding the mention of 
proper names : the persons to whom they were re- 



■ 48 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

vealed would know exactly what was signified. So 
in the Surah dealing with a false charge 
brought against A'islmh it is not stated what 
the charge was, or who circulated it: the 
matter was one of notoriety at the time, hut 
a later generation, in order to understand the 
Surah, would require to know details. The 
interpreters of the Qur'an find in the same Surah 
verses which deal with events separated by years 
from each other : it was necessary to have some re¬ 
cord of the main periods in the Prophet’s career, in 
order to read the volume with understanding. Thus 
in Surah III there is matter which is said to belong 
to the period immediately after Badr, to that imme¬ 
diately after Uhud, to the affair of the Trench, and 
to the visit of the deputation from Najran quite late 
in the Medinah period. The interpreter wdio tried 
to explain the force of the texts would he compelled 
to assume some historical knowledge or to impart 
it. . 

But the Qur’an also contains much ancient his¬ 
tory and in these cases the employment of proper 
names is more frequent, but the student would in 
every case be glad of additional information. He 
would at any rate like to be able to arrange the 
events in some sort of chronological relation to his 
own time. Consultation of the books in the hands 
of Jew's and Christians was, if not actually forbid¬ 
den, at least discouraged. We shall see that M. b. 
Ishaq, the biographer of the Prophet, incurred 
censure for referring to those works. Yet converts 
from Judaism and Christianity would at any rate he 
tempted to utilize what adhered to their memories 



THE BEGINNINGS OF ARABIC HISTORY 49 

in reference to events mentioned in the Qur’an, and 
this was evidently done. We even know the names 
of persons who at an early period acted thus. 

(2) A reason for retaining an account of the 
history of Tsinan in chronological order was the prin r 
ciple whereby rtinl: was determined by precedence 
in accepting Islam. When pensions were assigned 
out of the public treasury, the principle of classifica¬ 
tion was length of adherence to the Islamic system. 
There are frequent references to .this s&biqah 
(priority). At the famous arbitration the advocate 
of Mu'awiyah feared that an objection might be 
raised to his appointment on the ground that he had 
no sdbiqah, not having accepted Islam till the taking 
of Meccah. It was argued on the other hand that, 
he was a brother-in-law of the Prophet, and this 
doubtless satisfied public opinion. The lists of those 
who fought in the Prophet’s battles are preserved by 
Ibn Ishaq doubtless because of their importance for 
this purpose. Nevertheless even in Ibn Ishaq’s 
narrative we find some doubts about the order of 
events, and in the works of the Jurist Shafi'i, who 
was a zealous student, and had lived long at 
Medinah, we find some uncertainty about this 
matter, grave as was its importance for fixing the 
chronological order of the Revelation. 

(3) The cities and countries conquered enjoyed 
different rights according to the amount of resistance 
which they had offered to the conqueror. At times, 
as in the case of Egypt, rebellion after submission 
caused alteration in those conditions. It is obvious 
that without continuous chronicles the maintenance 

7. 



50 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


of such rights would be difficult, if not impossible. 
It would seem to have been well on in the Umayyad 
period before copies of such treaties were retained 
at headquarters, or indeed anything corresponding 
with a Rolls Office was inaugurated. The occasion 
is then said to have been a casual one. When 
treaties are quoted they are apt to be quoted orally, 
whence, e.g., different chroniclers record the impor¬ 
tant treaty whereby 'Ali and Mu'awiyah undertook 
to refer their differences to arbitration, very differ¬ 
ently : the witnesses are quite different. Without 
historical knowledge it would be difficult to estimate 
the genuineness of treaties or charters when pro¬ 
duced. 1 ' " ! *l 

Examples of this need arising are to be found 
in Baladhuri’s Futuh al-Buldan. Thus when a 
question arose as to the treatment of the people of 
Cyprus after a revolt when a great number of jurists 
were Consulted by the governor who had suppressed 
the revolt, it was clear that those lawyers had to 
dive into records in order to know how Cyprus was 
c<>*tquered and on what terms, and how such cases 
^iad been treated before. The precedents which the 
lawyers required could only he obtained from books 
of records or persons who had made it their business 
to memorize them. The headquarters of this know¬ 
ledge was Medinah, where shortly after the Pro¬ 
phet’s death experts began to form themselves, 
since the occasions on which such knowledge was 
required began to multiply speedily. It is a sign 
that the Qur'an is accurate in describing the people 
of the region where it was produced as illiterate that 
not till well into the Umayvad period, the reign of 



THE BEGDJNINGS OF ARABIC HISTORY 51 

‘Abd al-Malik, was Arabic made the language of the 
records in the bureaux : the “ permanent officials ’ ’ 
till then were of necessity natives of the countries 
which had been conquered, who conducted business 
in the language and with the formula?, to which they, 
had been accustomed. One can imagine that the 
employment of Hijazi Arabic as an official language 
in the bureaux of the empire must of necessity have 
preceded its employment for the composition of 
chronicles. The story told above, if true, indicates 
that ‘Abd al-Malik himself had no desire that his 
innovation should develop in this way : yet we must 
attribute to it the developments which naturally 
ensued from it. It gave rise to the profession of the 
Kdtib, oi- Secretary of State, whose range of infor¬ 
mation presently became encyclopaedic, whereas lie 
also made the most important contribution to the 
growth of a prose style. Doubtless he had to rely 
on the researches of grammarians and experts in 
the Arabic vocabulary but these persons "were unable 
to cope with him in his own line. We have what 
is probably an authentic story of the fourth century, 
which illustrates this. The grammarian Abu Sa‘id 
Sirafi, of vast celebrity in his time, as an authority 
on Arabic usage, is at a party where word comes that 
an official epistle is required by the Sultan. Abu 
Sa‘id is asked to compose one, and finds the task 
difficult: a Katib tosses one off without hesitation. 
Admirers of the vizier ‘Ali b. 'Isa record w'ith pride 
how he could compose letters to be circulated to the 
governors of provinces straight off: he had not to 
make a fair copy, as there was nothing to alter. 
The Kdtib becomes at a later period the historian, 


10664 



52 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

not so much because he has intimate knowledge of 
affairs, as because he is a practised writer. 

This was the remote consequence of 'Abd al- 
Malik’s innovation, and there were reasons why the 
high places in the bureaux in spite of Arabic be¬ 
coming the official language were frequently filled 
by persons who were not Muslims, still less Arabs, 
and the chief prose writers were rarely, if ever, the 
latter. We have only to think of such names as 
Tabari, Dinawari, Miskawaihi, Ibrahim the Sabian, 
‘Imad al-din Ispahani, and the like. The rise of 
this profession however did not shake the position of 
the Huffaz, those who retained things in their memo¬ 
ries, and whose services in producing precedents for 
legislation were constantly in requisition. For 
though sunnah, meaning properly a custom, came 
to have the sense of a precedent set by the Prophet, 
the legal theory that an act which had once been 
done by a qualified person might be done again, ex¬ 
tended itself far beyond the Prophet’s acts. 

Persons who possessed a store of information 
which was likely to attract an audience, became 
kussas, narrators, who formed circles in the Mosques 
and told stories. These were most likely to attract 
if they were about prominent personages in the his¬ 
tory of Islam, or prophets mentioned in the Qur’an, 
and the large amount of matter which accumulated 
round these names is probably due to their efforts. 
The early narrators, from whom the later historians 
derive their information, are often charged with in¬ 
venting or fabricating, in some interest or other. 
‘Aw&nah, ob. 147, who is the source of much, is 
said to have fabricated to favour the Umayyads : in 



THE BEGINNINGS OF ARABIC HISTORY 53 

the work assigned to Baladhuri the narratives for 
which ‘Aw&nah is cited seem to support this charge. 
The Umayyad ‘Abd al-Malik is represented in them 
as generous and forgiving, ready to offer Ibn 
Zubair any terms, if only he will resign his claim to 
the Caliphate. For all barbarous and impious acts 
that took place in connection with the suppression 
of Ibn Zubair’s revolt Hajjnj was responsible : when 
‘Abd al-Malik could restrain his violence, he did so. 
Where he could make reparation for injuries inflict¬ 
ed by Hajjaj, he made it. He was also generous in 
his estimate of enemies whom he had overcome, 
and did not approve of their being slighted or 
maligned. It is difficult to judge of the probabili¬ 
ties in such matters. It is clear however that the 
reputation for veracity in the case of all these early 
collectors of information was doubtful. If the 
later historians relied on their statements, it was 
because they had no other sources. 

(4) The prosperity of early Islam had produced 
a leisured class, and archaeology is everywhere a 
favourite pursuit with such persons. As the Islamic 
cities grew there would be many anxious to know 
how they were founded and how their chief buildings 
had arisen : there would also be questions arising 
from the tribal organization of early Islam, where¬ 
by separate quarters were assigned to different tribes 
in the cities that were founded. 

For all these reasons historical science came 
into existence in spite of official discouragement, 
and indeed the needs of the legal system made it 
necessary. The process whereby the rulings of the 
Prophet came to be the sunnah in lieu of pre-Islamic 




54 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


practice made some record of his doings indispen¬ 
sable, and such procedure involved that something 
should be known about the persons who enter into 
the narratives and especially the reporters. More¬ 
over Islam was continuous : the death of the Pro¬ 
phet had not the consequences which often have 
followed on that of the founder of a system : his 
place as head of the community was immediately 
taken by persons in whom for many years he had 
placed confidence and who were thoroughly familiar 
with his ideas. For a time the athdr meant the 
acts not only of the Prophet, but those of his imme¬ 
diate successors also. In the Muwatta of Malik, our 
first collection of traditions, there is some laxity in 
this matter. 

Certain characteristics which result from the 
method of composition find their illustration in the 
volume which is accessible of Baladhuri’s history, 
and are likely to have been exhibited in the earlier 
collections which he cites. One feature which 
they share with the Hadfth literature is repetition : 
the same anecdote occurs with slight or no variation 
more than once on the same page or in different 
parts of the book; the reason being that the author 
has obtained it from more than one shaikh. In 
the Collections of Tradition there is a reason for 
this; the Prophet’s words count as revelation, and 
it is therefore of great importance to ascertain if 
possible the correct form in which they were utter¬ 
ed; the different paths are like separate strands all 
going to strengthen the rope. Further the Tradi¬ 
tions form the basis of legislation; they illustrate the 
mode wherein the Prophet settled cases which came 



THE BEGINNINGS OF ARABIC HISTORY 55 

before him; they furnish important rulings on 
points of doctrine. Hence it is natural and proper 
that in such a collection as that of Bukhari the same 
Tradition should repeatedly occur under different 
headings or articles of the code. But neither of 
these reasons applies to the words and deeds say of 
TJmayyad Caliphs, or persons whose authority would 
not count. The less tedious plan, which some later 
authors follow, is to cite their authorities at the com¬ 
mencement of the narrative, and, if necessary, ad¬ 
mit that though they all agree on the main drift, 
there are certain minor differences between them. 

Besides, we find the consequence of defective 
memory which affect the literature of anecdote in 
most countries. Noteworthy sayings are attached 
to the wrong persons; sometimes owing to identity 
of name, sometimes to confusion of personalities 
who had something in common. Mu'awiyah and 
‘Abd al-Malik were the most eminent of the 
Umayyad Caliphs, and there was not a little in 
their characters which was similar; hence the. same 
tale is told of both. Numbers, which are of great 
importance in historical records suffer seriously from 
the ease wherewith the memory substitutes one for 
another. Baladlmri in stating the numbers which 
gathered round Hajjaj when lie was confronted with 
the rebellion of Tbn -Tarud says, some say 0,000, but 
others 1,600! 

The extent to which voluntary and intentional 
fabrication entered into the traditions which arose 
during this period is hard to fix, and the individual 
judgment has little to guide it. A historian of 
Baghdad, Ibn Abi Tahir, produces the oration of 






56 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


the Prophet’s daughter Fatimah, when protesting 
against the confiscation of her inheritance by Abu 
Bakr. Its genuineness was., lie said, disputed : but 
that criticism in his opinion was due to partisan¬ 
ship, the desire to depreciate members of the Pro¬ 
phet’s house. Tt might on the other hand he argued 
that such a subject offered a good opportunity for 
the exercise of oratorical power. That tradition 
was fabricated on a colossal scale is shown by the 
criticism of it which developed into a regular dis¬ 
cipline at an early period, and which reached its 
maturity in the third century, when the standard 
collections were put together. The conditions of 
the collectors varied in severity: what they agreed 
on was that vast quantities of traditions were fabri¬ 
cations. The anxiety to know more about the 
Prophet and the heroes of early Islam led, as we 
know, to greater industry and effort among the 
Muslims than in any analogous case : and the study 
of the Tradition of the Prophet is largely responsible 
for and to be credited with the growth of geography 
and biography; if the way to test the authenticity of. 
a tradition was to estimate the trustworthiness of the 
transmitters, it was indispensable to learn as much 
as possible about their lives: it was necessary to 
know when and where they had lived, and this ren¬ 
dered geography and history requisite. This was 
enforced by the principle that the Prophet’s sayings 
and doings were a source of law: and the motives 
for inaccuracy and fabrication in the case of these 
and of what might be called secular history seem to 
balance each other. It may well be believed that 
Muslims would hesitate more before fabricating 



THE BEGINNINGS OF ARABIC HISTORY 57 

something connected with the Prophet, since ac¬ 
cording to a well-known tradition such an act in¬ 
volved a high degree of criminality. To fabricate 
about Yassid b. Mu'awivah or ‘Abd al-Malik would 
be far less heinous. On the other hand the value 
attaching to the Prophet’s words and deeds was 
vastly greater, whence there would be a motive for 
fabrication in this case and not always a discredi¬ 
table one, which would not be present in the other. 
Further to distinguish what actually happened from 
what must have happened requires the attainment 
of an intellectual poise which even in our time few 
acquire. Those who put into some shape the ac¬ 
counts of those events in Islamic history which had 
the most serious consequences, were likely to have 
been reared in an environment which made them 
take a particular view of what happened: and the 
narrative would be adapted to that view. Even in the 
later history we can see traces of this. We may 
illustrate by the accounts of the death of Muqtadir 
furnished by Miskawaihi and ‘Arib respectively. 
According to Miskawaihi Muqtadir was a hopeless 
coward : though repeatedly summoned to show him¬ 
self to his troops in the field he makes excuse after 
excuse, till compulsion is employed: according to 
‘Arib he comes forward bravely. Both agree that 
he met his death on this occasion. Probably ‘Arib 
is thinking how a Caliph must have behaved, where¬ 
as Miskawaihi follows an accurate tradition. 

The process however whereby the narratives 
became chronicles has now been traced. Eye-wit¬ 
nesses of important events were required to describe 
them by numerous persons: convenience caused 

8 



58 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


them to adhere after a time to a fixed form of words, 
which thus became a hadith. We find this process 
at least as late as the fourth century : a man who lias 
access to valuable information and is prepared to 
impart it adopts a particular form : the different 
hearers reproduce it, ordinarily with unimportant, 
sometimes with important variations. Such 
hadiths became embodied in continuous collections 
while still retaining their individuality : as the 
need for abridgment arises they drop the isnad and 
become part of a chronicle. As we have seen, the 
Arabic historians render the tracing of sources far 
easier than those of other nations by the fact that 
their history is a development of Aliadith: it does 
not begin with either the continuous or the official 
chronicle, but with eye-witnesses’ narrativesThe 
possession of this system gave the Muslims an ob¬ 
vious advantage in their controversies with Jews and 
Christians, who gave more the appearance of taking 
their information on trust. They had no chains of 
authorities for either sacred or secular history: 
where, e.g., the Greek historians are not describing 
their own experiences, they rarely give us the oppor¬ 
tunity of testing the source of the information which 
they present: we have to assume that it was obtained 
from people who knew. Ultimately the Jews had 
to compose an Isnad for their Taurah. 



LECTURE IV. 


Poetry as a Vehicle of History. 

If history was in a measure commentary on 
the Qur’an, there is reason for thinking that it was 
also to some extent comment upon verses. We meet 
at times with the theory that poetry was the tribal 
method of recording history, and the earlier histo¬ 
rians cite verses in illustration of the chief events; 
this they can the more easily do because the mili¬ 
tary organization is still tribal, and the successes or 
disasters which they sing belong to the tribe. One 
of the earliest specimens of this form of historical 
composition is to be found in the Book of Judges, 
where the Song of Deborah appears to be the nucleus 
of history to which the prose narrative is attached 
as commentary; one of the sources which the histori¬ 
cal portions of the Old Testament acknowledge for 
early narratives is a Book called And he sang,* i.e., 
a collection of tribal ballads which commemorated 
victories or defeats. We read similarly of odes 
wherein the struggles of the Aus and Khazraj prior 
to the arrival of the Prophet were recorded, which 
the Prophet, whose purpose was to institute frater¬ 
nity between the tribes, forbade to be recited. 
Clearly only such odes as were of transcendent merit 
or recorded some overwhelming triumph or defeat 
would stand much chance of being preserved;^ the 
French savants who collected the ballads of North 


This is surely the true sense of Yashar. 



60 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


African communities found that they were all 
recent; the crises which had produced the earlier 
effusion had been submerged by later crises, and 
in consequence new ballads had superseded the 
earlier compositions. This source of early Islamic 
history naturally attracted the attention of archaeo¬ 
logists and grammarians, who in consequence are 
often cited as transmitters. Their interest was not 
that of the historian, who thinks mainly of what 
men do, but rather that of the literary critic, who 
cares chiefly about what they say, or the antiquarian, 
who is anxious to know their customs and beliefs. 

There are some obvious difficulties which attend 
this mode of perpetuating the memory of events. Tt 
is of course possible that heroic lighters like the anti- 
Caliph ‘Abdallah ibn al-Zlubair went into battle 
reciting verses of their own composition, and that 
persons who by his side were themselves looking 
death in the face remembered these lines and, hav¬ 
ing somehow come safely out of the rout, preserved 
them and transmitted them. On the other hand it 
is possible to think and put into verse what such o 
champion would be likely to say on such an occa¬ 
sion, and with the view of enlivening the narrative 
put it into his mouth. The practice of inventing 
speeches for the persons whose deeds are described 
is too familiar to require illustration. In collections 
of models for epistles we find letters which might 
have been written on important occasions, such as 
the recovery of Jerusalem from the Franks, often 
difficult to distinguish from letters which actually 
were written. In the case of the Sirah of Ibn Ishaq 
it is acknowledged that the odes, some of them of 



POETRY AS A VEHICLE OF HISTORY 61 

considerable length, with which the narrative is en¬ 
livened, and which are supposed to have been pro¬ 
duced immediately after or in immediate connexion 
with the chief events of the Prophet’s life, were 
written to Ibn Ishaq’s order; some suspicion is 
therefore justified in other cases. But even where 
authenticity is established, as in the case of the odes 
composed by the ‘Abbasid poets in honour of their 
patrons’ achievements, the nature of the ode renders 
it unsuitable for conveying such detailed or accurate 
information. It .perpetuates some proper names of 
places and perosns, but naturally has nothing to do 
with dates or strategy or tactics. 

That a narrative gains in vividness if the 
characters are introduced speaking and not merely 
doing deeds is well known, and was observed long 
ago; but this process, if not strictly limited, turns 
history into romance. A historian who carries the 
procedure very far is Dinawari. In narrating the 
events which led to the battle of Siffin he reports a 
conversation held by Mu'awiyah with the person 
who brought him the news of ‘Uthman’s murder, 
who urges Mu‘awiyah to claim the Caliphate for 
himself, and recites some verses; Mu‘awiyah, 
impressed by the suggestion, also breaks out into 
verse, indeed into a fairly lengthy ode. Then he 
receives the letter of 'Ali, summoning him to offer 
allegiance, and this letter is produced at length. 
Mu‘awiyah consults his relatives, and his brother 
‘TTtbah advises him to seek the help of ‘Amr b. al- 
‘As; Mu'awiyah writes a letter to ‘Ami' and this 
letter, summoning the latter, is then inserted. 
‘Amr arrives, and the author is able to reproduce tho 



62 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


conversation between the two; Mu'awiyah mentions 
three troubles which have befallen him, of which 
the demand of ‘Ali is the third. ‘Amr dismisses the. 
first two as easily settled, but points out the difficulty 
of resisting 'Ali, and asks what is to be his recom¬ 
pense if he supports Mu'awiyah. The latter tells 
him to name his own terms; he wants Egypt. 
Mu'awiyah requires time for consideration, and we 
now hear a conversation between him and ‘Utbah, 
who advises that ‘Arar’s terms be accepted. 
Mu'awiyah asks his brother to stay the night, and 
presently hears ‘Utbah reciting some verses, urging 
him to venture, and these cause Mu'awiyah to make 
up his mind. ‘Amr now suggests the first steps 
to be taken, and presently a message is delivered to 
‘Ali in verse, and 'Ali orders a poetical reply to be 
made. 

Such dramatization of history suggests some 
scepticism in any case, especially when the author 
(as is the case with Dinawari) fails to state who his 
informants were. Secret conversations, if they are 
to be preserved at all, must be reported by one of the 
parties; and where the conversation is not creditable 
to either party, there is no great probability of it 
being reported at all. Further we find that the letters 
which according to this historian passed between the 
parties are quite different from those which another 
historian, who is called Ibn Qutaibah, produces; to 
some extent the sense is the same, as indeed might 
be expected, for this, is supplied by the circum¬ 
stances. It is of course conceivable that both 
Mu'awiyah and his brother, and the rest, composed 
odes on these occasions, but the probability is that 



POETRY AS A VEHICLE OF HISTORY 63 

they were otherwise occupied. It is evident that 
what we have in these conversations, to which other 
historians add others, is the-solution of problems 
which occur. What put it into Mu'awiyah’s head 
to resist ‘Ali, and to send for ‘Amr? How came 
‘Amr to respond to the call? These and similar 
questions arise when the historian desires to pene¬ 
trate into the motives of the acts which he records. 
The method employed is to assume the omniscience 
which the author of fiction of necessity assumes; for 
him there are no secrets. And the introduction of 
verses is an artifice for adorning the narrative which 
Arabic writers of fiction regularly employ. In the 
Maqamahs the speakers drop into verse when they 
can find occasion for it. 

We have seen something of the weakness which 
attends ballad poetry as a record of events. Even 
such ballads as Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Home, 
if we had anything to correspond with them dealing 
with the events of pre-Islamic Arabia or of the first- 
century of Islam, would not be free from these weak¬ 
nesses, though they possess the continuity of history 
and some of the geographical and other detail which 
constitute an intelligible record of events. But it 
is not easy to find in the early poetry of the Arabs 
anything which could be compared with them, or 
even with the Song of Deborah. It is well known 
that the versification of the Arabs does not favour 
continuity : the verse is an independent unit, and 
normally is by no means inextricably connected with 
what either precedes or follows : its connexion lies 
not in its sense but in its conformity to rhyming 
letters and metre. Hence the verses which deal 



64 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

with tribal or other history are in normal cases 
allusive rather than historical or narrative, and. 
where \vc possess the entire qasidah to which they 
belong, arc mixed with other matter which is un¬ 
connected with their subject. Tn this way we got a 
little history in the Mu'allaqat, especially in that of 
Zuhair, where some men are commended for settling 
a dispute between two tribes peacefully at their own 
cost. But to call Zuhair’s Mu'allaqah a ballad 
would be to misrepresent it seriously. Its content 
is far more didactic than narrative. 

The historical verses which constitute the divan 
of the Arabs are not different from this type. The 
Hamasah of Abu Tamm&m furnishes illustrations. 
They are at any rate in many cases fragments selec¬ 
ted from odes, because they deal with particular sub¬ 
jects. Usually they are autobiographical, and need 
a historical commentary to explain them. The 
verses had to survive by their own merit, and the 
authorized reciters would furnish the explanatory 
details. Grave doubt often existed concerning the 
occasion wherein the verses had been uttered, and 
the authorship of even celebrated lines was disputed. 
Moreover there were cases wherein the incident was 
what remained in men’s memories or somehow came 
within their knowledge and then verses were com¬ 
posed to suit it. Sometimes wc are inclined to 
smile at what appears to be the uncritical attitude of 
the historians and archaeologists in citing verses 
which cannot have been uttered by the persons who 
are credited with them. 

In the Diwans of the great ‘Abbasid poets we 
get something more nearly approaching the ballad 



POETRY AS A VEHICLE OF HISTORY 65 

than these casual allusions. The purpose of many a 
lengthy ode by Abu Tammam, Buhturi, Mutanabbi, 
Sharif Radi, Ta'awldhi, and others is to comme¬ 
morate some historic event or scene. Where the 
divxln is arranged in chronological order, and the 
heading furnishes date of the occurrence, the contri¬ 
bution to the chronicles which arises is not slight. 
At times they record events of considerable import¬ 
ance about which the chronicles are silent; Buhturi 
has an account of a sea-fight which seems to have 
escaped the contemporary historians. He describes 
even with detail palaces built by the Caliphs of his 
time, about which the chroniclers say nothing. 

The idea of substituting for a ballad something 
more nearly resembling a versified chronicle is found 
in the. third century of Islam. ‘Abdallah, son of 
the Caliph al-Mu‘tazz, devoted an ode which* he calls 
Kitab Sirat al Imam “ the Book of the Career of 
the Sovereign ” to an account of the life and reign 
of Mu'tadid. He even gets the date of his death 
into a verse, of which the translation is “ He died 
after two hundred which had passed away in the 
year of nine and eighty past,” i.e., 289. The 
author was a famous man of letters, whose literary 
miscellanies arc frequently quoted, and whose poeti¬ 
cal diwan has considerable merit. He himself 
after the death of the Caliph Muktafi, when the 
appointment seemed to be in the hands of the vizier, 
was put on the throne in lieu of the infant Muqtadir, 
by a faction which included the virtuous ‘Ali b. 
Ts5, who held that an experienced man of affairs 
rather than an infant, should be put by conscientious 
men on the throne. The soldiers, however, w r ho 

9 



66 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


we faithful to the memory of Mu'tadid, thought 
otherwise, and ‘Abdallah’s Caliphate was 
ephemeral. 

The ode which is of 363 couplets is unlike the 
ballads a continuous account of Mu'tadid’s exploits. 
It begins after the Basmalah with the loyal state¬ 
ment that the Prophet when lie passed away “ left 
to the sons of ‘Abbas the inheritance of a kingdom 
securely founded, in defiance of every envious person 
who seeks it, and would destroy it under pretence 
of building it up.” The title then follows : " This 
is the book of the Conduct of the Sovereign, well 
wrought of gems of speech, meaning Abu‘1-Abbas 
the best of mankind for sovereignty, as may be said 
with knowledge of the truth.” He arose, the poet 
goes on to say, “to sustain the cause of the kingdom 
when it was lost, was free to any one to plunder, 
had lost all respect, trembled if a fly buzzed, when 
every day a sovereign was being killed, or in terror 
of his life, or abdicating in order to avoid captivity.” 
This passage is a correct description of the period of 
anarchy which arose with the murder of Mutawakkil 
and continued till the accession of Mu'tamid, and 
though " every day ” is a gross exaggeration, we 
find it employed by a speaker in Tabari’s chronicle. 
He then describes the licence of the soldiery, 
“ every day demanding rations, which they regard 
as a right and a debt due to them.” He then asserts 
that the robe of sovereignty had been torn by parties 
whose religion was no better than paganism; among 
them the second Pharaoh of Egypt, rebel against 
God, obedient to Satan; i.e., Ibn Tulun, and the 
-Alawid the leader of the miscreants, who sold free 



POETRY AS A VEHICLE OF HISTORY 67] 

men in the markets. He then enumerates other 
persons who, lie says oppressed the people, Ishaq 
the Baitar, the most expert of mankind in drink and 
music, ‘Isa Ibn Shaykh and his son, both of them 
brigands, who prayed for the sovereign every Friday, 
but otherwise took no notice of him, took men's 
money openly, and dyed their weapons with their 
blood. This continued to be the people’s condition 
until they were helped by Abu‘l-‘Abl>as who was 
like the Persian Ardashir, who did his best to renew 
a ruined realm. His chief trouble was with that 
Zanji rebel who obtained possession of Basrah for 
many years and defeated the imperial armies time 
after time. The poet attributes the merit of his final 
defeat to Mu'tadid, who undoubtedly assisted his 
father Muwaffaq in this troublesome business. The 
rebel's name was Hasan (fair) : Tabari usually 
speaks of him as the Khabith (ugly); his revolt was 
clearly in part religious in character as the leader 
claimed to be a descendant of ‘ Ali, and in his mani¬ 
festo as reported by Tabari claims that they are not 
fighting for any worldly interest. His description by 
Ibn al-Mu‘tazz confirms the language of Tabari. He 
sold free men as slaves in the markets : he was 
associated with criminals and rebels : he slew old 
men and infants: he despoiled souls and goods : he 
destroyed palaces and mosques, he was the head and 
leader of every heresy : the spokesman of every un¬ 
believing rafidT, cursing the companions of the pro¬ 
phet, all but a handful; every one but himself he 
regarded as a Kafir. For a time he cajoled the 
blacks, undertook to enter Baghdad, asserted that 
he understood mysteries. He ravaged Ahwaz and 



68 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


Abullah, established himself in Wasit, reduced 
Basrah to cinders never likely to rise again; prac¬ 
tised unheard of cruelties; the poet enumerates the 
Baghdad generals whom this pretender defeated : 
Musa (Ibn Bogha), whom he spued from his mouth, 
Muflih, whom lie put to death, and who left the 
Turks after his loss like the owner of a hand which 
had been amputated from the wrist. He also slew 
Mansur b. Ja'far who had previously been a great 
man, and rumours of his victory had been spread. 
Then he drowned Nusair, retainer of Sa’id the one- 
eyed. Ultimately after all these successes Gotl 
raised against him a hero., who ceased not for a year 
and a second and a third striving with his counsel, 
his sword, his goods, his speech and his acts. The 
poet then indicates that Mu’tadid’s ultimate success 
was won by means other than mere bravery in the 
field : ‘ ‘ He would harbour the deserter, and forgive 
slips and trespasses, nor would you find him violate 
aDy contract, nor mix falsehood with his earnest. 
After this he went to Syria, where the people learned 
of his gallantry.” Ask concerning Qail whom they 
overthrew in Shar’yar. From Syria he proceeded 
to Egypt; and went to fight the Saffar, flying except 
that he was in a saddle. 

The poet next proceeds to more domestic succes¬ 
ses—his overthrow of the vizier Isma'il ibn Bulbul 
Abu l’Suqr, a person of great importance, though 
Tabari mentions him casually only. His contem¬ 
porary poet Ibn al-Bumi both eulogizes and 
satirizes him, especially his claim to be descend¬ 
ed from the Arab tribe Shaiban. According to the 
poet this vizier was an expert in extortions : “he 



POETRY AS A VEHICLE OF HISTORY 69 

would take from this wretch his estate, whereas in 
another case he would want both his goods and his 
wife. As to anyone whose father died wealthy, such 
a person would be long confined in prison, and the 
vizier would say, ‘Who knows that you are his 
son?’ When merchants were known to be wealthy 
the vizier would declare that the Caliph had deposit¬ 
ed money with them : if he denied the claim, he 
would be smoked or burned. Out of his extortions he 
built a palace, which w'as plundered l>cfore his death, 
and rased to the ground. He was also a musician and 
performed in public: he was an admirer of Plato 
and the philosophers, talked of lucky arid unlucky 
stars, sensibilia and infcelligibilia, measured the 
longitude of the earth and the spheres, and the 
dimensions of the territories of the Chinese and the 
Turks. Men in consequence were disgusted with 
those who performed the Islamic ritual. And all 
this went on till he was struck by the arrow of death 
—and I should like to know whether liis knowledge 
had told him this?” 

He implies that the death of Isma'il was follow¬ 
ed by the accession of Mu'tadid, to whom Egypt 
sent tribute, the Saffar swore allegience. Mu'tadid 
then proceeded to scrutinize the lists of the retainers 
and eject all incompetent soldiers : after this mea¬ 
sure he proceeded to Mausil, and extirpated brigand¬ 
age and piracy. There were, he says, on the Tigris, 
a thousand “ milkers,” people who exacted tribute 
from all ships that went up or down the river. The 
robber chiefs who were compelled to submit are 
named, among the most interesting being Hamdan, 
whose fortress was rased : the descendants of this 



70 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

Hamdan play a great role in the history of the 
following century. Then one Harun, a kbariji 
evidently, as he cursed ‘Uthman and repudiated 
‘A'li, was Caliph of Kurds and Bedouins. 

The poet then enumerates among the services 
of Mu‘tadid his postponing the nairuz, i.c., accom¬ 
modating the Kharaj year to the solar calendar : as 
might have been expected, and appears from other 
sources, the exaction of the land-tax by the lunar 
calendar led to great hardships, as the tax-gatherers 
employed torture of various sorts to compel pay¬ 
ment : and this could only be effected by borrowing 
at exorbitant rates. All this, however, the poet 
assures us, came to an end. 

Next he proceeds to admiration of this 
Caliph’s buildings, which he asserts, were superior 
to those of any previous Caliph. In one of these 
was an artificial tree : no one has ever seen the like 
of the tree with branches, bearing leaves and fruits, 
planted in no soil, not irrigated by water, but telling 
of a wise man, successful, experienced, knowing, 
thinking before be speaks; such works (and many 
more are enumerated) are evidence of the might of 
Islam. 

The greatest of his conquests, he presently 
asserts, is Amid, the patron of every defiant rebel; 
no city so well fortified was ever seen : according to 
the poet it was taken by Mu‘tad id after a lengthy 
siege. This was the seat of that Isa ibn Shaikh, 
who was mentioned before. From Amid he came 
to Raqqah, where he stayed a month, and owing to 
the alarm which he spread, tribute was sent from 
Egypt. On his return he was welcomed by three 



POETRY AS A VEHICLE OF HISTORY 71 

“ the Emir, the Vizier and the third AbuT-Husain 
al-Qasim, who were like the three supports of a 
tripod.” The Caliph is complimented on his skill 
in choosing such helpers. 

Ho proceeds to state that after ten years of 
Mu'tadid’s reign he saw the Prophet in a dream, 
who thanked him for his services, after which came 
the capture of the rebel SafFarid Isma'il who was 
brought in chains to Baghdad : and the defeat of the 
rebel Ibn Zaid in Tabaristan. 

Various other successes are then mentioned, 
some rather cryptically: then there is a notice of 
the Qarmatians, the people of the thickets, who 
established mischievous laws, and were destined as 
completely as the people of ‘Ad—this is an exaggera¬ 
tion, for the QaVraatians gave serious trouble in the 
succeeding reigns. What Ibn al-Mu‘tazz tells us 
about them is of interest: “ They say, if we are 
slain fighting bravely for our religion, we shall come 
back, after certain days to our folk;—they fight on 
behalf of a hidden chief, who promises hut does not 
perform.” 

There follows an attack on the people of Kufah, 
who are supposed to have encouraged Husain to 
revolt and then deserted him : the tears which they 
shed over Husain are compared to crocodile’s tears— 
tins must be an early example of the proverb. 
There is also a reference to the variety of systems in 
this place of which we have some other notices. 
They (the people of Kufah) remain bewildered in 
their religion : they are neither Jews nor Christ¬ 
ians : the Muslims are quit of them. They are 
Bafidis of different types. Some repudiate the 



72 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


Apostle, and assert that Gabriel made a mistake in 
his conduct, i.e., gave messages which were intend¬ 
ed for ‘‘AH to Muhammad. Some say ‘Ali is our 
lord: that is all the religion we require. Of these 
arc the rebels and the revolutionaries, who answer 

any call to fresh allegiance.their prophet is Ibn 

Abi’l-Qaus, who reduced the number of necessary 
prayers, making one substitute for another. 

If this poem be compared with the chronicle 
of Tabari, it will be found to be nearly as instruc¬ 
tive': in one or two cases Ibn al-Mu'tazz dates 
events by the month, but it is not clear to which 
year he refers. He did wisely to choose the rejez 
metre for the purpose of this chronicle: the grave 
difficulty of maintaining the same rhyme for some 
hundreds of lines is thus avoided. * Though some 
of the lines are from their nature prosaic, many of 
the phrases bear out the description of the language 
which is given at the beginning of the work. Hence 
it comes very nearer history than the ballads. It 
shares with them the partisanship which has been 
noticed : for not everything attributed to Mu'tadid 
could with justice be ascribed to him, and even the 
notion that some case could be made out for his 
enemies does not occur to the poet. If however we 
had no chronicle for the period, we should find Ibn 
al-Mu‘tazz a fair substitute for one. 

Another specimen of a historical poem is that 
by the Hamdanid Abu FirS-s, a cousin of the cele¬ 
brated Saif al-daulah, who was taken prisoner in 
one of the latter’s wars with the Byzantines, and 
vainly implored his cousin to see that he was ran¬ 
somed. The poem in which he recounts a long 




POETRY AS A VEHICLE OF HISTORY ;73 

scries of events belongs to the old style called 
Mufakharah, wherein a bard glorifies either himself 
or his tribe. After a rather lengthy erotic prologue 
the poet devotes over 150 verses to a chronicle of 
the Hamdanids : the metre is Tawll and the rhyming 
letter R. 

This portion of the ode commences with com¬ 
pliments to Saif al-daulah, who, he says, by his 
exploits has rendered it unnecessary to recall the 
earlier glories of the family. Nevertheless he gives 
its earlier history, starting with an unnamed ances¬ 
tor who, he says, collected the Taghlib tribe when it 
was in danger of dispersion, and paid the blood- 
money for a hundred who had been slain in some 
tribal quarrel. Another member of the family had 
entertained the sovereign and his army. Another 
ancestor had governed the province Diyar and sus¬ 
tained the population in a three years’ famine. 
He also “ cured the disease of the frontier, which 
had seemed incurable, and transferred the sickness 
to the heart of the King of Rum.” He built a for¬ 
tress to protect the frontier, which apparently had 
since been rased, but which, the poet foretells, will 
be rebuilt. ."When famine befell the two Diyar 
( i.e ., Bakr and Mudar) he removed its effects by his 
generosity. His uncle was the man who overcame 
Fatik and Qattal. He also marched to the palace 
of the Caliph and burned it while the army was 
surrounding it. The account of these matters fur¬ 
nished by Miskawaihi’s chronicle is very different. 
Husain ibn Hamdan, the uncle to whom the poet, 
refers, at the commencement of Muqtadir’s reign, 
attacked the Caliph’s palace, but met with such 

10 



74 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

resistance that he withdrew and fled to Mausil. 
The poet attributes to this person another series of 
exploits which are either concealed by the historian 
or presented in a very different way: the various 
victories which the poet claims for his uncle are 
claimed by the historian for the great general of the 
time, Mu‘nis. This is the case with the conquest 
of Egypt, the defeat of the rebel Subkara, and the 
capture of Yusuf ibn Abi’l-Saj, which are recounted 
by the historians at considerable length, without 
much allusion to the part played therein by the 
Hamdanid. There follows in the poem a scries of 
pre-Islamic glories not easy to identify. From 
these the poet proceeds to the capture of Baghdad 
by Saif al-daul and Nasir al-daulah, which he re¬ 
presents with a certain amount of justice as their 
proving the helpers of the Caliph when he had no 
helper, bringing him home and placing him on his 
throne, and conducting the affairs of the Moslems in 
a manner which won the gratitude of religion and 
Islam. The murder of Ibn Ra'iq by Nasir al- 
daulah, which in the history appears as an act of 
gross treachery is recorded in the line “ when the 
calf of Iraq, Ibn Ra'iq tyrannized, one who was 
neither a tyrant nor extortionate found a remedy for 
him.” It is rather remarkable that in enumerat¬ 
ing the glories of his family the poet omits that 
which most impresses the reader of Miskawaihi’s 
chronicle—Abu’l-Haija’s fidelity to Qahir. The 
final part of the poem is devoted to an enumeration 
of the exploits of Saif al-daulah, in part the same as 
those celebrated by Mutanabbi. Among details he 
mentions that when the Ikhshid saw .what over- 



POETRY AS A VEHICLE OF HISTORY 75 

shadowed him, i.c., the power of Saif al-daulali in 
Haleb—lie determined to conciliate him, and held 
that by a matrimonial alliance he would gain more 
than lie could get with an army. 

This ode of Abu Firas is undoubtedly a more 
poetical performance than that of Ibn al-Mu'tazz, 
but it exhibits the defects of the ballad style in a 
high degree. The style is largely allusive : lie does 
not give the names of his ancestors and uncles, 
whence the ode is not intelligible without commen¬ 
tary. The exploits celebrated are, so far as we can 
identify them from other sources, seriously exaggera¬ 
ted, or even wholly misrepresented. The career of 
Saif al-daulah was certainly no uninterrupted series 
of victories, but only such receive any notice or are 
the subject of allusion. Moreover it is clear that 
the poet thinks very little about chronological order, 
and it would be impossible to extract anything like 
a consistent account of one of Saif al-daulah’s cam¬ 
paigns from the verses. Various allusions arc 
clearly of interest and must refer to historical events, 
but they arc enigmatical: commentaries, should we 
find them, would probably deal only with linguistic 
matters as indeed the Beyrut commentator misspells 
Ibn Ka'iq as Ibn Za’iq and tells us that Ikshshid is 
“ the name of a man.” 

If however it is of only moderate value as his¬ 
tory, it is of some interest as an example of the 
Mufakharah style, which though late, is at least of 
undoubted genuineness and by a poet of considerable 
talent and of high reputation. Moreover, as a 
cousin of Saif al-daulah and N&sir al-daulah, both 
of whom played parts of great consequence in the 



76 LECTURES 0N ARABIC HISTORIANS 

politics of the time, he was a more competent en¬ 
comiast of the two than the ordinary court poet, who 
would know his patron less familiarly and be more 
careful about his utterances. It appears however 
that of the events of the generation which imme¬ 
diately preceded his own knowledge is rather 
vague : it is by no means clear that he could name 
the uncles and ancestors whose exploits he would 
commemorate. As has been seen, his account of 
even recent events is not only one-sided, but, if the 
chronicle can be trusted, seriously misrepresents 
what occurred. Hence the danger which accom¬ 
panies the employment of ballad poetry as history 
is illustrated by this ode of Abu Firas. 

The third example of a versified chronicle which 
we have is in the anthology of the Spanish writer 
Ibn Abd Rabbi hi. This is an account of the ex¬ 
ploits of the Caliph ‘Abd al-Rahman III, the first 
of the Spanish Umayyads who took the title. It is 
like Ibn al-Mu'tazz’s ode, in Rejez metre, but un¬ 
like that is divided into sections which bear dates : 
it is therefore modelled on the chronicles. The 
language is naturally eulogistic throughout and 
exaggerated, but he gives lists of the places in Spain 
which ‘Abd al-Rahman reduced, several of which. 

Albirah, retain their names to this day : in 
some cases fairly accurate details are furnished. In 
301 lie is said to have attacked Carmond, where one 
Ibn Sawadah had rebelled: he asked for some 
months’ respite after which he would be the slave of 
the conqueror. The latter granted this request, and 
went home. The verses for the next year run : 
“ Year 302: in this there was the return from the 



POETRY AS A VEHICLE OF HISTORY 77 

raid of 301, and there was no further raid nor mis¬ 
sion in this year.” The remaining paragraphs are 
summaries of what occurred, which, though not 
exactly poetical, are lairly clear and detailed. Thus 
year 304 runs: 

After this was the raid of the year four, and 
what did not our Lord perform therein, through the 
devout king stretching out both his hands in the 
path of God ! For he led two captains, who secured 
victory, one to the frontier and its neighbourhood 
against the enemy of Polytheism and its adherents, 
another to the tall mountains of Murcia, whereas 
the former went to Valencia. The general whom 
he sent to the coast was al-Qurashi, commander of 
forces : whereas Ibn ‘Ali ‘Abdab went against tbc 
polytheists, in the fullest and best equipment. 
The two proceeded with continuous victory and 
bereaved the enemy. After this glorious raid he 
sent bis client Badr to raid Lablat al-Hamra, to¬ 
wards tbc end of this year, no other; he besieged the 
place and compelled it to surrender its governor 
whom Badr brought captive to his master.” 

Under year 305 lie records a victory over a 
Muslim rebel, but also a defeat sustained by one of 
the Caliph’s generals, Abu’l-Abbas, who, lie says 
was the bravest of the brave, but led an army of no 
fighting men, who, when he was surrounded by the 
enemy, surrendered him to them. 

The Urjuzah goes on from year to year ending 
with 322. The verses are exceedingly monotonous, 
as they repeat the same phrase, in describing a 
series of raids, sieges, capitulations, massacres, 
rasing of fortresses, rebellions, imposition of terms 



78 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


and the like. A large number of local names are 
mentioned, which however are to a considerable ex¬ 
tent mutilated in the Egyptian editions, but doubt¬ 
less could be corrected by any one who collated the 
prose chronicles with this ode, or verified the names 
in geographical works. Very few names of enemies 
occur; these are chiefly designated by abusive 
epithets. 

Erom what claims to be no more than a cata¬ 
logue of raids one ought not to expect continuous or 
intelligible history, and the Urjnzah is in conse¬ 
quence little more than a menioria technica, and 
scarcely a good one. In order to turn it into history 
the author would have had to devote more study to 
the situations, so as to tell us something of the inter¬ 
nal condition of the cities conquered, the reasons 
which led to the repeated rebellions, and the prepara¬ 
tions in each case which led either to success or 
failure. The best of the Greek historians do some¬ 
thing like this, but few of the Arabic chronicles go 
to this length: the better sort do, however, deal at 
some length and detail with the internal condition of 
the country whose history they are recording, so as 
to render their narrative more intelligible and in¬ 
structive. It is not easy for the panegyrist to do 
anything of this kind, for anything like accurate 
biography of sovereign, general, or statesman, while 
it involves an account of the difficulties which they 
have to face, can in few cases credit them with in¬ 
variable success in dealing with such difficulties : 
ordinarily such a statement reveals weaknesses and 
failures, possibly even crimes, as well as ability and 
success, with strict adherence to virtue. The 



POETRY AvS A VEHICLE OF HISTORY 79 

panegyrist, who is afraid of wounding his patron’s 
susceptibility, lias to confine himself to what flatters. 

Of these three specimens of poetical history 
every reader will probably regard Ibn al-Mu'tazz’a 
ode as the most instructive and intellectual, while 
that of Abu Firas has the best claims to be called 
a poem, and indeed contains some verses of high 
merit. The Urjuzah of Ibn ‘Abd Rabbihi displays 
no commendable quality except facility in the pro¬ 
duction of rejez rhymes and perhaps some acquain¬ 
tance with Spanish geography. A ridiculous error 
is committed where the author makes the Christians 
swear by the idols mentioned in the Qur’an. His 
anthology has acquired some popularity owing to 
the encyclopaedic nature of its contents : the Sahib 
Ibn 'Abbad found it disappointing, as he expected a 
Spanish author’s work would have contained more 
original matter. He quoted over it some words 
which occur in the Surah of Yusuf: “ This is our 
merchandise returned to us.” 

These three poems present the highest stage 
which the historical epic reached in Arabic verse : 
and, as has been seen, it is likely that any reader of 
the three would assign the chief merit to Ibn al- 
Mu'tazz. Other works which bear the title “ his¬ 
torical poem ” are much further removed from the 
chroificle than these. Such is the historical poem 
of Ibn Badrun, a Spanish writer, wdiich is a series 
of miscellaneous historical allusions, meant to be 
explained by a commentary. Such too are the two 
odes w'hich claim to give the history of the 
Eimyarites, but are evidently late and unhistorical: 



80 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

the enucleation of this history had to be left to later 
epigraphists. 

Those who study the history of the Islamic 
dynasties will however find the poetical diwans 
helpful, not so much for their recording series of 
events, which they rarely do, but because they re¬ 
produce many a political situation, and to a small 
extent serve the purpose which a popular press 
serves. The diwans naturally vary much according 
to the career of the authors in the possibility of 
utilizing them for this purpose: the most instruc¬ 
tive are diwans such as those of Buhturi in the third 
century and Ta'awldhl in the sixth, whose authors 
were definitely court-poets under different sovereigns 
and who faithfully reproduce the sentiments evoked 
by. contemporary events. They said what the 
Caliphs or ministers wanted them to say : we can 
gather from their odes what was occupying public 
attention and how the public wished it to be regard¬ 
ed. Buhturi’s odes make us feel how the £anji 
danger was affecting the population of Iraq. 
Ta’awldhi’s reproduce the sensation caused by the 
Crusades. Where the poet is not permanently 
attached to a court, as was the case with Mutanabbi, 
who tried his fortune at a great number, the infor¬ 
mation conveyed is less valuable : the poet is not in 
such a case sufficiently identified with a community 
to depict its concerns with accuracy. 

We have thus answered a question which is 
sometimes asked and answered negatively :—is there 
anything corresponding to the Epic in Arabic verse? 
If by the Epic is understood the historical poem, of 
which Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered, or the great 



POETRY AS A VEHICLE OF HISTORY 81 

Indian Epics may be taken as examples, we have 
scon that the language shows certain efforts in this 
direction : and the rejez metre, as the style suitable 
for didactic poetry, was naturally chosen by the 
authors. Whereas Ibn al-Mu'tazz designed a work 
of art, Ibn ‘Abd Rabbihi scarcely contemplated more 
than a memoriu tcchnica or summary of events 
easier to remember than a prose narrative. That 
the language produced nothing more considerable in 
this line than the odes which have been analysed is 
due in the first place to the circumstance that the 
qasldah with its bold leaping from subject to sub¬ 
ject was ill-adapted to a poem with a plot: in the 
second place to the fact that only the rejez metre was 
suited to such a composition, and only in the form 
in which the rhyme is confined to a single couplet. 
The older form wherein the same rhyme pervades 
the odes, and the other metres, were far too difficult 
to permit of lengthy narratives being committed to 
them. Hence such attempts as we have considered 
remained exceptional though encomiasts and sati¬ 
rists naturally continued to allude to important 
events wherein their subjects had some share : and 
to these allusions the historians frequently refer less 
for confirmation of their narratives than owing to 
the felicity of the versification. 


11 



LECTURE V. 


Historians or thk Skcond Orntury. 

The Foundation of Baghdad marks the com¬ 
mencement of the literary period of Arabic in the 
sense that books begin to be composed for reading 
as well as for reciting and committing to memory, 
though, as has been seen, the belief that only oral 
transmission was trustworthy was difficult to shake. 
It is not indeed quite easy to distinguish the author 
of matter intended for oral transmission from the 
writer: the isolated tradition could exist either in 
writing or be orally transmitted, and the works 
which precede the continuous chronicles seem to be 
sjf this form. Such an author is Abu Miklmaf, Liit 
Yaliya, who died about 157, to whom some 32 
porks arc ascribed. Many of his narratives are 
/embodied by Tabari in his work. Different narra¬ 
tors of this early period arc supposed to have specia¬ 
lized in portions of their subject: Abu Miklmaf 
knew more than others about the affairs of Iraq, 
Mada’ini most about Khurasan, India and Persia, 
Waqidi about the Hijaz, while all these were of 
equal authority on the conquest of Syria. Abu 
Miklmafs titles are all of the episodic type : they 
were monographs on battles, the deaths of eminent 
men, or events which were of importance in the 
early history. One fastidious authority remarked 


HISTORIANS OF THE SECOND CENTURY 83 

on him that he came from Kufah, and his tales were 
worthless. 

Among other transmitters of knowledge who 
came before the popularity of written books we may 
mention ‘Awanah b. al-Hakam, a man of humble 
origin, his father a slave tailor and his mother a 
negress, but who was a source of information to the 
learned of the next generation; his death-date being 
variously given as 147 and 158. He was of special 
authority on “ conquests,” but was also quoted for 
poetry. It was asserted that he was a partisan of 
'Uthman and fabricated traditions which favoured 
the Umayyads: another tradition however makes 
him a supporter of the ‘Alawids, who lamented the 
failure of that M. b. ‘Abdallah who contested 
Mansur’s claim to the Caliphate, but was defeated 
and killed. Yaqut records that Mada’ini, who will 
presently be mentioned, got most of his information 
from ‘Awanah: and the famous grammarian and 
archaeologist Asma'i was also among his hearers. 
The anecdotes which Yaqut produces throw little 
light upon his activity whether as a teacher or 
collector of information : one that is more interest¬ 
ing than the others makes him, when asked his 
tribe, assert that it is the tribe which preserves the 
memory of knowledge when other people forget it- 
The questioner inferred that he must be of Kalb, 
which was the tribe of the celebrated Ibn al-Kalbi, 
who is presently to meet us. The instances on 
which this generalization was based were scarcely 
numerous. 

Before however the narratives began to assume 
a stereotyped form suitable for commission to writ- 



84 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


ing the functions of the transmitters were scarcely 
distinguished. We find the same persons cited as 
authorities for historical events and for legal deci¬ 
sions. The fact that law depends on tradition and 
tradition depends on history rendered the functions 
of the three even in far later times apt to overlap. 

This prose literature actually starts with the 
Sirali of the Prophet by Muhammad b. Ishaq, 
whose grandfather Yasar was taken prisoner at 'Ain 
Tamar, and formed one of the first band of captives 
brought to Medinah. His death-date is variously 
given as 150, 151 or 152 : he was buried near the 
grave of Abu Hanifah the jurist, in the Khaizuran 
Cemetery. He was said to be the first compiler who 
collected the narratives of the Prophet’s campaigns. 
He appears to have got into trouble at Medinah by 
going for information to Fatimah daughter of al- 
Mundhir b. al-Zubair, whose husband I-Iishain b. 
TIrwab disapproved. He fled to Hirah, where al- 
Mansiir was, and dedicated his MaghfizT to this 
Caliph : and obtained an audience for his work 
there, in the Jazirah, and in Bai, where many trans¬ 
mitters of his narrative remained. The views taken 
of his veracity were very different: the chief tradi¬ 
tionalist of the third century fails to cite him. Other 
authorities are reported us saying that learning will 
last so long as Ibn Ishaq lives. Malik Ibn Anas 
however applied the term dajjitl “ false Messiah ” 
to him, perhaps because he undertook to criticise 
Malik’s traditions. Other complaints made against 
him were that he favoured the tenets of the Shi‘ah, 
and obtained information from the grandson of 
Hasan : that he employed versifiers to compose 



HISTORIANS OF THP. SECOND CENTURY 85 


poems to insert in his Sirah, as though they had been 
composed on the occasion, e.tj., a poem in which 
Abu Tfilib defends his conduct to his fellow-citizens, 
ballads belonging to both sides in the campaigns, 
etc. Further that he made serious mistakes in the 
genealogies which he introduced : and that lie ob¬ 
tained information from Jews and Christians, whom 
lie calls in his hook “ people of the former learn¬ 
ing.” Besides his Sirah lie composed a history of 
the Caliphs (doubtless the Umayyads) and a book 
of origins. 

As is well known, the great Sirah of Ibn Ishaq 
has not been recovered: its contents are known to 
us from the extracts given by Ibn Hisham and the 
historian Tabari, which to some extent supplement 
one another. 

The other authors of this period are rather 
collectors of separate traditions, which had doubt¬ 
less assumed some stereotyped form, but the extent 
to which the script was intended as more than an 
aid to the memory is doubtful. One of the most 
voluminous of these historians was Mada’ini, ‘Ali 
h. Muhammad b. ‘Abdullah, born 135 and died 
225. He was originally of Basrah, then went to 
live in Mada’in, which gave his nisbah, and thence 
removed to Baghdad, where he remained till his 
death. He enjoyed the favour of Ishaq b. Ibrahim 
al-Mausili, who is familiarly known to us from the 
Aghani as a professional musician, but an expert 
in every other subject. A story is told of some dis¬ 
tinguished men seated at the door of Mus'ah Zubairi 
one evening when a man came by in fine attire on 
a handsome ass. One of the party knew him to be 



86 


LECTURES OK ARABIC HISTORIANS 


Mada'ini and asked him whither he was going : lie 
replied “ to that munificent person who fills my 
pocket from top to bottom with dinars,” meaning 
Ishaq al-Mausili : Yahya b. MVin, a high authority 
on tradition, declared him to be a trustworthy narra¬ 
tor. A story which follows is less favourable. 
Mada’ini recited a tradition about Khalid’s invasion 
of Syria, which contained a verse about Khalid’s 
guide Raft. Mada’ini mispronounced a word in the 
line giving the letters wrong points: “ I knew 
thence,” said the narrator, "that his learning came 
from written leaves”—not, as it should have, from 
oral instruction. A story which Mada’ini himself 
tells is how the Caliph Ma’mun ordered Mada’ini 
to come to his court, and recite traditions to him : 
lie repeated a number, and presently told the story of 
‘Ali being cursed from the pulpits by the Umayyads. 
Apropos of this he records how during the Umayyad 
domination he never in Syria heard any one called 
‘Ali or Hasan or Husain : only the names of Umay¬ 
yad Caliphs like Yazid and Walid were given to the 
children. A traveller at this time passing by a 
house asked the owner for water, and called a son 
Hasan by name to fetch some. The traveller asked 
how he came to call his son by that name. The 
reply was that parents constantly abused their child¬ 
ren, and he did not like to abuse any one who was 
called after an Umayyad Caliph : with the name 
Hasan that did not matter. The story was meant 
to shock this Caliph : probably it did, as he contem¬ 
plated having a member of the 'Alid family to 
succeed him. Tlic narrator however supposed the 
Caliph to think such abuse suitable. 



HISTORIANS OF THF SECOND CENTURY 87 


The list of Mada’ini’s writings which follows 
is like a series of chapters or sections rather than of 
continuous works. It is divided into groups, of 
which the first is Records of the Prophet, some 
specimens of this first group “ The Book of the 
Mothers of the Prophet,” i.c., his ancestresses. 
The Description of the Prophet. Narratives of the 
Hypocrites. The Prophet’s treaties. Names of 
the Hypocrites, and other persons about whom Qur’- 
anic texts were revealed.—The next group are Re¬ 
cords of Quraish, commencing Genealogy of Quraish 
and its records. The Book about al-Abbas son of 
Abd al-Muttalib. Records of Abu Talib and 
his children. 

Next group: Marriages of the Nobles and Re¬ 
cord of Women : these seem to have collections 
of curious information, caj., Book of those who 
married two sisters, or a wife’s daughter, or had 
more than four wives, or married a Parsee woman. 
Book of women whose husbands died in their 
defence. Book of women satirized by their hus¬ 
bands, etc. 

Next group: Records-of the Caliphs. These 
were all what we should term monographs, clearly 
short compositions dealing with some minute in¬ 
quiry. “ Book of Caliphs’ wives who married 
again.” “ Names of the Caliphs, their patrony¬ 
mics and the length of their lives.” “ Ornaments 
of the Caliphs.” At the end of this list there figures 
a Great Book of records of the Caliphs, dealing with 
the time from Abu Bakr to Mu'tasim. Doubtless 
portions of this are what we find embodied in the 


88 LECTURES OX ARABIC HISTORIANS 

words of later historians, where Madn’ini is cited 
as the authority. 

The next group is Events, i.c., monographs 
dealing with the chief events in the history of Tslam : 
“ Book of the Apostasy," i.c., the rebellion which 
followed the Prophet's death. “ Book of the 
Camel," i.c., the battle wherein *Ali defeated 
A’ishah and her party. ‘ The Book of Nabrawan." 
“ The hook of the Ivhawnrij." “ Addresses of ‘Ali 
and his despatches to his Governors." “ Records 
of Hajjaj and his death." Yaqut adds to this long 
list a great work called the Book of the ‘Abbasid 
dynasty, not mentioned in the Fihrist, but of which 
Yaqut had seen a part in the handwriting of Sukknri 
the archaeologist. 

The next group is that of Conquests : Con¬ 
quests of Syria from the days of Abu Bakr to 
those of Tthman. Conquests of Iraq from the 
days of Abu Bakr—usually this conquest is dated 
somewhat later—to the end of the days of Omar. 
Conquests of Ivhorasan and records of its rulers, 
c.q., Qutaibah and Nasr b. Sayyar. Two of these 
monographs dealt with India : the Book of the 
Indian frontier, and of the Indian provinces. The 
long list of these treatises seems to have covered the 
whole region of Islamic conquest with the excep¬ 
tion of North Africa and Spain, which arc not 
mentioned. Probably much of the same matter was 
embodied in the work of Baladhuri of the next cen¬ 
tury. At a period not earlier thar the Crusades a 
scries of works purely fictitious in character and 
dealing with some of these conquests were fathered 
on Waqidi. 



HISTORIANS OF THE SECOND CENTURY W) 

The next group is Records of the Arabs, which 
also contain collections of curious matter illustrative 
of Arab ways : “ The Book of men called after their 
Mother “ Of men called by a mother’s name 
“ The book of horses and racing“ The Book of 
the building of the Ka’bah.” 

The next group deals with poetical history : 
many of the items have titles which suggest that the 
author was interested in curious details : “ Book of 
persons who quoted verses during an illness:” 

Book of verses answered in Prose “ Book of 
persons who stood upon a grave and quoted poetry : ” 
” Book of persons who when told of a man’s death 
quoted some verse or prose : ” “ Book of women 
who aped men:” “ Book of those who preferred 
the Bedouin women to the women of the towns,” 
etc. 

In addition to this lengthy series of monographs 
Yaqut quotes an additional list of Kutub mu'allafak , 
apparently works which contained more original 
matter than the former, which probably were tradi¬ 
tions strung together : some of them which come 
near history are the Book of the Qadis of Medinah; 
of the Qadis of Basrah; of the striking of Dirhems 
and the exchange; “ Book of Medinah,” “ Book 
ofMeccah.” Others were more of a moralizing 
character, but one in this list is a geographical 
treatise containing an enumeration of the districts 
and the principle of their taxation. 

Mada’ini’s literary activity was clearly por¬ 
tentous, even if the monographs were of moderate 
size. Apparently his taste was in favour of curious 
learning and interesting details, but he presents a 

12 



90 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

transition from the single narrative to the conti¬ 
nuous work, if the statement that he composed 
works of the latter type is to be trusted. 

Numerous relics of Mada ini's researches are 
to be found in the later histories, and in the Uqd 
Farid of the Spanish collector Ibn ‘Abd Rabbihi. 
IIis collection of the speeches of 4 Ali is probably 
intact in this work, and lie is probably the authority 
for the collection of the correspondence of ‘Ali, 
Mu'ilwiyah, and others, which is preserved in the 
same, and excerpted elsewhere. It is asserted that 
he got much of his material from ‘Awanah. As 
will be seen later, the value to be attached to these 
documents is very doubtful. At a later period, the 
end of the fourth century, a distinguished descendant 
of ‘Ali, the Sharif al-Radi, made a collection of his 
great ancestor’s remains called Nahj al-Bataghah, 
but apparently this person placed little confidence in 
Mada’ini’s collection. We have to consider both in 
the case of the correspondence and in that of the 
orations whether there would be any likelihood of 
any person having access to the letters which reached 
both parties, or of the speeches being either written 
down or memorized at a time when they were in¬ 
tended to affect people’s conduct, and not to interest 
them as historical monuments or models of style. 
The likelihood of letters being preserved becomes 
greater when the “ bureau of the seal ” came into 
existence, and there is a probability that the corres¬ 
pondence between Mansur and the ‘Azid pretender 
Muhammad b. ‘Abdallah is historical, though the 
copies produced by Tabari and Mubarrad differ in 
some important details. But before the introduc- 



HISTORIANS OF THF SECOND CENTURY 91 

tiou of this bureau the chances of such correspon- 
douce being preserved are likely to have been small. 

An author who resembles Mada’ini both in his 
subjects and in his mode of treatment is Hisham 
b. Mohammed b. al-Sayvib al-Kalbi, an authority 
of the first order on genealogies : one of his works 
on this subject is said to be in existence. His 
death-date is given as 204 or 206 : the list of his 
works exceeded 150. One of them, the Kit fib <tl- 
Ashdm lias been printed and is of small compass, 
as is likely to have been the case with the remain¬ 
der. Several of the titles are identical with those 
. of treatises which figure in Mada’ini’s list. Several 
dealt with pre-Islamic history, such as the Book of 
the Kings of Kindah, the Book of the Tubba’s, 
Kings of Yemen, Book of the Kings of the Parties 
—titles which do not inspire much confidence, 
since it is not probable that Ibn al-Kalbi had access 
to that epigraphic material from which alone this 
history can be enucleated, and which the geogra¬ 
pher Hamdani is the only Arab who both acquired 
and utilized for such research. Numerous mono¬ 
graphs dealt with various departments of pre- 
Tslamic archaeology, such as the Book of the Reli¬ 
gion of the Arabs, the Book of the Judges of the 
Arabs, the Book of the ICahins, the Book of the 
Jinn. Some however have lists which suggest ac¬ 
tual history, “ History of the affairs of the 
Caliphs,” followed by a work on the Description or 
Characteristics of the Caliphs, the Book of the 
Children of the Caliphs. Others dealt with events 
in the Prophet’s time, others were geographical or 



92 


LECTURES ON AFABIC HISTORIANS 


statistical in character. His patron is said to have 
been a member of the Barmecide family. 

The historian of this century who acquired the 
greatest renown is doubtless M. 1). Omar al-Waqidi, 
whose life extended from 130 to *207. Waqidi 
counts as a more serious personage than either 
Mada’ini or Kalbi, and indeed is said to have been 
a pupil of Malik b. Anas and Sufyan al-Thauri, 
botli of them jurists of the highest order : further 
he is said to have come in contact with that Ibn 
Juraij who is associated with the commencement of 
the study of tradition. Like Tabari who will oc¬ 
cupy us in the next lecture Waqidi was an authority 
on tradition and jurisprudence as well as on history. 
He was appointed by Harun al-Rashid qadi of the 
Eastern quarter of Baghdad, by Ma'mun qadi of 
Mahdi’s Camp. Yaqut reports an anecdote illustra¬ 
ting Waqidi’s relations with Ma’mun. The judge 
wrote to the Caliph complaining of some difficulty 
which had compelled him to run into debt: men¬ 
tioning the amount. Ma’mun replied in his own 
writing: You have, I see, two qualities, munifi¬ 
cence and modesty : the former has caused you to 
deal lavishly with your possessions, the latter has 
induced you to mention to us only part of the debt 
which you have incurred. We have ordered that there 
shall be given twice the amount which you asked, 
and if we have fallen short of your actual re¬ 
quirements, that is your own fault: if however we 
have fulfilled your request, then practise even 
greater liberality than before. For the treasuries 
of God are open, and His hand is stretched out in 
munificence. You yourself reported to me when 



HISTORIANS OF THE SECOND CENTURY 93 

you were al-Rashid’s judge that the Prophet said 
to Zubair : “ The. keys of wealth are in front of the 
Throne, and God Almighty sends down to mankind 
their provision according to their expenditure. 
Whoso spends much will receive much, and whoso 
spends little receives little.” Waqidi stated that lie 
had forgotten this Tradition, and was more asto¬ 
nished by Mu’mini’s reminding him of it than by 
his gift. 

There follows a storj which Waqidi is supposed 
lo have told. I had, he said, two friends, 
one of them of the family of Hashim : we 
were like one person. I was in great stress for 
want of means and the Feast was approaching. My 
wife said to me : We, you and I, can put up with 
this distress, but our children rend my heart with 
pity for them. They see the children of the neigh¬ 
bours in fine clothes for the feast, while they them¬ 
selves are in these rags. Do try and obtain some 
money which we could spend on dressing them. So 
I wrote to my Hashimite friend, asking him for 
such assistance as he could give : he sent me a sealed 
purse, which, he stated, contained a thousand 
dirhems. I had no sooner felt some comfort when 
the other friend wrote to me making a similar com¬ 
plaint to my own : and I sent him the purse un¬ 
opened. I then went out to the Mosque where I 
remained all night, being afraid to meet my wife: 
but when I got home, I told her what I 
had done, and she approved my action, utter¬ 
ing no reproof. While we were talking, 
in comes the Hashimite friend, with the purse, 
unopened as before : he asked me to tell him truly 


94 LRCTUKISS ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

what I had done with what he had sent. He said : 
When you wrote to me ; my sole possession in tlic 
world was what 1 sent you, so I wrote to our com¬ 
mon friend to ask him for assistance, and he re¬ 
turned me my own purse, with its seal unbroken. 
So we three divided the contents in equal amounts 
between us. Ma’mun heard of this affair and sent 
us 7,001) dinars, 2.000 for each of us three, and 
4,000 for my wife. 

Yaqut proceeds to give an account of the size 
of Waqidi’s library: when he moved from 
the Western to the Eastern side of Baghdad, 
his books formed 120 camel loads: for all 
that he boasted that whereas other people 
possessed more books than was stored in their 
memories, in his case the contents of his 
memory Were the more copious. The statement 
implies that the literary output of the 60 years 
was phenomenal: for that the objection to 
written books lasted even beyond the middle of 
the second century seems too well attested to admit 
of doubt. 

The list of Waqidi’s works is lengthy, and 
varied : several of the works contained in it arc of 
the style which we have seen to be favoured by 
Mada’ini : monographs on special incidents in the 
history of Islam : such as this were the Book of 
the Saqifah and the proclamation of Abu Bakr : the 
Book of the deatli of the Prophet: the Book of the 
Apostasy and the Palace, i.e., the death of 
TJthman : it is not clear why these two events 
should .have been combined : the Book of Siffin, 
etc. At the head of these historical works stands 



HISTORIANS OF THE SECOND CENTURY 95 

“ the great history,” and “ the Rook of History 
and campaigns and missions,” i.c., an account of 
the Prophet's mission and his campaigns. We 
should gather from the titles that all these books 
would have had great historical value, if preserved. 

European scholars have praised Waqidi for 
special attention to chronology, and the judgments 
of Moslem authorities on his work, though by no 
means unanimous, are in the majority of cases 
favourable. The only work of his which lias seen 
the light is a part of Ins Maghazi, published here 
(Calcutta), and a translation in German of a fuller 
MB. preserved in the British Museum. The list of 
his works contains some Conquests, of “ Syria ” 
and “ Iraq.” The books which have been printed 
as his with those names, arc, as has been seen, sup¬ 
posititious, and of no historical value. 

Another polygraph of this period, whose name 
frequently occurs among transmitters of historical 
matter, is al-Haytham b. ‘Adi, whose life covered 
J 80-209. The range of his studies was similar to 
that of Ibn al-Kalbi, who was supposed to collapse 
at the sight of al-Haytham : the latter so conspi¬ 
cuously surpassed him. The great traditionalists 
were not satisfied with his authority. A slave- 
girl of his was quoted for the assertion that he 
prayed the whole night and lied the whole day. 
His inquisitiveness extended to the private affairs of 
his contemporaries, who paid poets to satirize him. 
The diwan of Abu Nuwas contains a violent lampoon 
on him, which lie is said to have earned by failing 
to treat this important personage with due respect 
when he came to hear a lecture of al-Haytham. 



96 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

The very long list of his works is a series of titles 
of monographs dealing with chapters of pre-Islamic 
tribal history, or events in early Islam, or archaeo¬ 
logical matters connected with the Islamic cities and 
Islamic institutions. We find in it histories of the 
governors and judges of Kufah and Basrah, and the 
like. But there is also a “ History arranged in 
order of years,” which must be a very early exam¬ 
ple of this style which afterwards became normal. 
That his works acquired great fame in his life-time 
may be inferred from the story that the Caliph 
Harun al-Rashid, when an action against al-Hay- 
tham was brought before him, immediately recog¬ 
nized him as the person meant in Abu Nuwas’s 
satire. 

Another person who meets us frequently in the 
authorities for historical traditions is al-Zubair h. 
Bakkar. He is said to have been a lineal descen¬ 
dant of that ‘Abdallah b. Zubair who for a time 
maintained himself in the Caliphate. He died as 
Qadi of Meccah in 256. The list of his works is 
fairly long, and consists chiefly of biographies of 
poets : some however were on historical events. In 
the list we find an early example of the practice of 
calling a book after the patron’s name. A historical 
treatise called the Muwaffaqi was named after the. 
author’s patron al-Muwaffaq, the brother of 
Mu'tamid who managed the affairs of the empire. 

Many of the traditions or narratives put to¬ 
gether by these persons are preserved intact in later 
works: what we clearly find in this period is the 
growth of the practice of accumulating libraries, 
though those who aspired to be authorities on his* 



HISTORIANS OF THE SECOND CENTURY 


97 


tory travelled about the empire to hear the cele¬ 
brated lectures. We are told that Abu ‘ Aun b. al- 
‘At5 had his house piled up to the ceiling with 
books : he died in 154, i.e., at a time when prose 
literature had only commenced. Abu ‘Aun before 
his death, it is added, burned his library, a practice 
which is recorded of not a few persons. There is a 
letter preserved of Abu Hayyan TauhTdi of about the 
year 400, wherein he defends his conduct in doing 
this by citing the example of many eminent men. 
The main motive, one fancies, was the desire to be 
regarded as tbe ultimate authority on a subject: if 
a writer’s written sources were preserved, probably 
those who followed after would prefer to cite these 
sources than some work based on them. The -word¬ 
ing of the passage in Abu ‘Aun’s case indicates that 
this was done as an act of piety; either this archeo¬ 
logist had returned to the view that it was unlawful 
to write books, or he thought their content frivolous. 
It is noticeable that in the code of Abu Yusuf, of 
Harun al-Rashid’s time, property in books is not 
yet recognized : and indeed the only works of which 
this jurist seems to know are the Qur’an and collec¬ 
tions of poems. 

Although the continuous chronicle becomes 
popular in the third century, whereas cases of it 
seem sporadic in the second, the monograph 
retained its popularity well into the third cen¬ 
tury. A voluminous author of this type was 
Ibrahim b. M. b. Sa’id b. Hilal, a native of Kufah, 
who however migrated to Ispahan where he died 
in the year 283. He claimed to be connected by 
lineage with several famous persons: one of his 

13 



98 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


ancestors was paternal uncle of the adventurer 
Mukhtar Ibn Ali ‘Ubaid, and had harboured the 
grandson of the Prophet, al-Hasan. He belonged 
at first to the Zaidi sect, but then joined the Tmami, 
of which he was a champion. The list of his writ¬ 
ings which occupies a whole page is like a replica of 
some of the groups in Mada’ini’s catalogue: there 
is “ the Book of the Saqifah,” “ The Book of the 
Riddah,” the “ Book of the Murder of Othman,” 
“ the Book of Siffin,” “ the Book of the two arbi¬ 
ters,” etc. Doubtless all these w r ere presentations 
of those epoch-making events from the point of 
view of the sect which lie followed. Like Waqidi 
he was also a jurist, and composed both Pandects 
and treatises on separate chapters. Patriotism 
found vent in a Book on the Excellence of Kufah 
and of the Companions who took up their abode 
there. One of his works called “ Book of those 
wdio have been slain of the family of Muhammad ” 
belongs to a category well represented in the litera¬ 
ture of the Shi’ah. 

Of the histories which belong to this period it 
w'ould seem that only two, M. b. Ishaq and Waqidi, 
have survived in sufficient amount to enable us to 
pass judgment on them Muhammad b. Ishaq 
may be described as a charming writer, who under¬ 
stands the art of grouping his material in such a 
way as to maintain his reader’s interest: who can 
tell us the sort of information about the leading 
characters which enables us to envisage them : and 
wffio, when the narrative calls for comment on the 
part of the author, can introduce observations which 
are by no means contemptible, though they may not 



HISTORIANS OF THE SECOND CENTURY 


99 


always be convincing. It is clear that the excerpter 
Ibn Hisham had far stricter ideas of propriety than 
Ibn Ishaq himself. The excerpter confesses to 
having expurgated the narrative, and he not unfre- 
quently excuses himself for failing to reproduce the 
poems in Ibn Ishaq’s text, on the ground that they 
were unsuitable. Some ol' the narratives which he 
has introduced agree word for word with what is 
found in Waqidi, and differences between the two 
can at times be explained by the compiler’s motives. 
The statement of Yaqut that M. b. Ishaq used 
Waqidi as an authority seems to conflict with 
chronology, as Waqidi belongs to a later generation. 
Since Ibn Ishaq’s work commences the series of 
biographies and chronology, and is at the basis of 
later lives of the Prophet, which are innumerable, 
posterity’s debt to him is very great. About the 
same time Malik b. Anas was engaged on his 
Muwatta, the first collection of the Prophet’s say¬ 
ings and doings which could be used to supplement 
the Qur’an: we are told that some of his contem¬ 
poraries remonstrated with him for his innovation 
in committing such a work to writing, but the 
Caliph is said to have regarded it as a public boon. 
Though Yaqut’s biography of Ibn Ishaq is fairly 
lengthy, he does not record a similar protest in this 
case: the objections are not to the writing of a 
Sirah, but to the supposed immortality of the 
author. 

To the question whether any of these writers 
or the traditionalists on whom they depended ac¬ 
tually falsified history in the interest of some per¬ 
son or sect it is not easy to give an answer. As has 



100 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

been seen, in reporting events narrators quite nor¬ 
mally put the supposed thoughts of the agents into 
their own w'ords : interviews which must from their 
nature have been and remained secret are put into 
dialogue form and the next chronicler assumes that 
what he has before him is not imagination but a 
record of fact. Conjectures based largely on etymo¬ 
logies are repeated not as conjectural explanations, 
but as transmitted records. Probably if we should 
discover copies of the literary efforts of Mada’ini, 
al-Haytham b. ‘Adi and Ibn al-Kalbi, we should 
find much in them which the laws of historical pro¬ 
bability would compel us to reject. Nevertheless 
the service rendered by them in putting into shape 
series of narratives dealing with the important 
episodes of the Islamic empire was very great. 
Their work in preparing for the continuous chroni¬ 
cle of Tabari was quite similar to that of the jurists 
of Medinah in preparing the w*ay for the codes of 
the law-schools. And since events can only be re¬ 
corded by eye-witnesses or persons who have taken 
part in them, the collecting of this material from so 
many sources involved vast research, and often dis¬ 
tant travel. For since the events were not confined 
to a moderate area such as the Hijaz but were spread 
over a large portion of two or even three continents, 
it was no easy task to reach any source of informa¬ 
tion. The studies of Prophetic tradition, history 
and geography helped each other to develop, for 
since information on the first two of these subjects 
was to be acquired by travel, the Book of Roads and 
Regions, though in the first instance intended as a 
help to the government, became an aid to the tradi¬ 
tionalist and the historian also. 



LECTURE VI. 


Historians of the Third Century. 

The third century of Islam is one of the most 
fertile periods of Arabic literature. To whichever 
field we turn our attention we find standard works 
composed : works which afterwards were the sub¬ 
ject of commentaries, were imitated, abridged, or 
otherwise treated as classics. To Muhammad Ibn 
Jarir Abu Ja'far al-Tabari we owe two of the most 
important works: his exhaustive commentary on 
the Qur’an, embodying all that tradition had preser¬ 
ved concerning the contents of the sacred volume, 
and his Chronicle of Apostles and Kings, or uni¬ 
versal history, brought down to 298. Yaqut’s life 
of him is one of the longest in his collection, occu¬ 
pying forty pages. It begins by distinguishing the 
four departments wherein Tabari acquired eminence 
—Tradition, Law, Reading of the Qur’an, History. 
He died on Saturday fourth from the end of Shawwal 
310, and was buried on the Sunday morning in a 
house in Rahbat Ya’qub in Baghdad. Although he 
used no pigment to conceal grey hair, both his beard 
and the hair of his head remained black to his 85th 
year : for he was born in 225. Some however say 
that he was buried at night, for fear of the populace, 
since he was suspected of favouring the Shi'ah sect 
—which was the case with many historians of dis¬ 
tinction. Al-Khatib, the author of the vast history 



102 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

of Baghdad, denied this : he asserted that on the 
contrary his funeral was attended by an innumerable 
body of mourners, prayers were said at his tomb for 
a number of months, both night and day, and 
dirges were composed over him by many persons of 
piety and learning. Of his studies something will 
presently be said : among his disciples Ahmad Ibn 
Kamil is mentioned, the person with whom Mis- 
Kawaihi pursued his historical study. For forty 
years running he wrote out forty pages a day. 
Yaqut’s authority proceeds to narrate how Tabari 
asked his friends whether they would be interested 
in a commentary on the Qur’an. They asked in 
reply how long it would be. 30,000 leaves was the 
reply. As they said life was not long enough for 
such a work, he reduced it to one-tenth, about 3,000 
leaves. He then asked the same question about a 
history of the world from Adam to his own time. 
When they were again told this would occupy 30,000 
leaves, and they shrank from the proposal, he ex¬ 
pressed disappointment at the lack of interest and 
energy, and again reduced his work to a tenth of its 
proposed bulk. We get an idea of the length of 
time taken by the physical effort of copying such a 
work as either of these from the story of some one 
who claimed to have taken the whole commentary 
down from Tabari's dictation : it had taken eight 
years, from 283 to 290. The history, he then tells 
us, was completed on Wednesday last but two of 
Rabi‘ II, 303, having been continued to the end of 
302. 

The next authority cited enumerates a variety 
of other works by Tabari, one of them a treatise in 


HISTORIANS OF THE THIRD CENTURY 103 

18 volumes, of a huge script, dealing with the read¬ 
ings of the Qur’an; Tabari made out a system of his 
own, which however he communicated to a very few 
persons, and only three were ever known to have 
followed it. 

There follows a story which savours of the 
miraculous. Tabari, Ibn Khuzaimnh, M. b. Nasr 
al-Marwazi and M. b. Harun al-Ru'yani were all 
in Egypt, t.e., Fustat, and found themselves in a 
state of extreme indigence: they decided to draw 
lots, to determine which of the four should go out 
and beg. The lot fell on Ibn Khuzaimah, who 
asked for time to wash and say a prayer. While 
he was praying, there appeared lights and a eunuch 
despatched by the Governor of Egypt, who had sent 
four purses, each containing 50 dinars to be given to 
each of the four by name. The Governor had seen 
a vision wherein he was told that the Muhammads 
were hungry, and so sent them this relief, with a 
promise of more when these sums were exhausted. 

There follow some stories told by Ibn Kamil, 
who as we see was Tabari’s pupil. He went to see 
the historian accompanied by his young son, nine 
years of age : there was a copy of Ibn Rabban’s 
Firdaus al-Hikmah, a medical w'ork, under the 
praying carpet: the visitor wished to examine the 
volume, but Tabari preferred that he should not do 
so, and bade the slave-girl take it away. Tabari 
asked why Ibn Kamil had not sent his young son to 
study with him, and when Ibn Kamil suggest¬ 
ed that he was too young, replied that he 
himself by the age of seven had learned the 
Qur’an by heart, had led prayer at the age of eight, 


j 04 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


had taken down Tradition at the age of nine: 
Tabari’s father had seen Tabari in a dream stand¬ 
ing in front of the Prophet, having with him a 
wallet filled with stones, which he was throwing. 
The dream interpreter said this meant that Tabari 
when he reached maturity would be a champion of 
the Prophet’s code. This led Tabari’s father to 
encourage him in the pursuit of learning. 

He began his studies in Amul of Tabaristan 
where he was born : thence he proceeded to Rayy. 
Here one of his teachers was Muhammad b. Humaid 
Razi. “ He would come out to us several times in 
the night to ask us what we had taken down, which 
he would proceed to read ”—to ensure accuracy. 
We used to go to hear Ahmad b. Humaid Dulabi, 
who lived in a village some little distance from Rayy, 
and then run back like mad in order not to miss M. 
b. Humaid’s lecture: this person communicated 
to him more than 100,000 traditions, among them 
those contained in M. b. Ishaq’s work, which he 
embodied in his history. From Rayy Tabari pro¬ 
ceeded to Baghdad, where he intended to hear 
Ahmad b. Harbal, who however died before Tabari 
had arrived. Tabari however stayed some time in 
the metropolis, hearing the lectures, and thence pro¬ 
ceeded to Basrah, having stopped for a time at 
Wasit also with the object of hearing courses. From 
Basrah he went to Kufah, where one of the 
Shaykh’s, Abu Kuraib, Muhammad b. al-Ala 
Hamadhani, was peppery. When the students 
desired admittance, Abu Kuraib put his head out of 
a window' and asked: Which o? you knows by 
heart what he has taken dow-n at my dictation? The 


HISTORIANS OF THE THIRD CENTURY 105 

students all looked at Tabari, and said to him, 
Doubtless you do. Tabari replied that he did, and 
was able to satisfy the rigid examination of 
the Shaykh from whom he obtained another 
100,000 Traditions. From Kufah he return¬ 
ed to Baghdad, where he took to the disci¬ 
plines of Law and the studies connected with 
the Qur’an: thence he travelled westward, till 
having attended courses at Syrian cities he proceeded 
to Fustat, in the year 253. In Fustat the most 
hospitable savant was ‘Ali b. Sarraj, who found 
Tabari an expert not only in the religious sciences, 
but in poetry as well. He was able to recite the 
Diwfin of Tirrimah for which this person had been 
searching, and dictate it to him with interpretation 
of the gharib. In Fustat he figured as the founder 
of a Law-school, having previously followed that of 
Shaft‘i: he had some followers, as indeed was the 
case with other jurists, since it was not till the end 
of the fourth century that the four schools were re¬ 
cognized as orthodox to the exclusion of others. 

Ibn Kamil records an anecdote which he had 
heard from Tabari, dealing with his experiences on 
reaching Fustat, and indicating the differences of 
dialect between the Arabic-speaking countries. 
Some friends whom he made procured him a 
dwelling, and told him a series of things which he 
would require : the terms w'hich they employed w r ere 
all unfamiliar to him in their Egyptian senses. Thus 
he was told he required tw r o donkeys : he said that 
his father had provided him with a sum of money to 
be expended in study : if he were to buy two donkeys 
with it, how could lie pay for his instruction ? The 

14 



106 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

donkeys however meant trestles of wood, to keep 
bis bed raised above the ground, in order to escape 
vermin, and the other articles were equally cheap 
and indispensable. 

A story told of his conduct in Fustat indicates 
some want of candour. He was beset by persons 
of all sorts, examining him in the different branches 
of knowledge w-herein he had acquired reputation. 
One day one of these persons asked him n 
question about prosody ’(‘arud). Tabari had 
not previously devoted any attention to that 
subject, but was unwilling to plead ignorance. 
He got the questioner to put off his ques¬ 
tion for a day, and in the meantime borrowed 
the treatise of Khalil b. Ahmad, the classical autho¬ 
rity on the subject. By the time w ; hen the ques¬ 
tioner repeated his visit, Tabari had become a 
“ Metrician.” 

A story casually told in the life of another per¬ 
son indicates that Tabari did not always come up to 
his reputation as a man whose memory retained 
vast stores. This person is the qadi Abu Ja'far 
Tanukhi knowm as Ibn al-Bublul, who died in 318, 
and was one of the judges consulted about the heresy 
of Hallaj. He met Tabari on the occasion of 
a funeral in Baghdad, without knowing who he 
was: they entered into conversation and both dis¬ 
played great acquaintance with literature. When 
the qadi learned the namt of his interlocutor, who 
was famed—not as a writer, it appears, but for the 
power of his memory and the versatility of his learn¬ 
ing—the qadi regretted that the Conversation had not 
taken another turn :’ some time later they met on 



historians of the third century 107 

another occasion, and the qa<ji took the opportunity 
of testing Tabari’s powers. Whenever a poem was 
quoted, the historian was requested to recite it in 
full: he omitted many verses and halted frequently : 
but each time Ibn al-Bublul was able to supply the 
gaps. The audience became convinced of Tabari’s 
deficiency, and Ibn al-Buhlul was gratified by the 
result. 

From Fustat he returned to Baghdad, thence 
home to Tabaristan, wffiich he visited again in 290. 
On his return to Baghdad after the former of these 
visits he got into trouble with the Hanbalites, owing 
to a remark of his about their founder which sound¬ 
ed disrespectful. Inkstands were flung at him, and 
his house presently pelted with stones, w'hich rose in 
a great heap, and were presently removed by the 
police, of whom Nazuk, known from Miskawaihi, 
was already head. He composed an apology where¬ 
in he eulogized Ahmad b. Hanbal, and concealed 
the w r ork wherein he disputed this person’s opi¬ 
nions, which was not published till after Tabari’s 
death. As has been seen, it is not clear that he 
succeeded in conciliating the Hanbalites, who were 
a turbulent element in the city. 

His skill in grammar was sufficient to earn the 
praise of Tha’lab whose courses he had attended be¬ 
fore the latter acquired celebrity : and Tha’lab was 
known to be chary in bis praise of others. 

Among the characteristics of Tabari it is re¬ 
corded that he was unwilling to favour one disciple 
more than another : if a student were unable to 
attend one day, Tabari would defer the course till 
he could come. 



108 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


Besides travelling to so many countries to ac¬ 
quire knowledge orally he appears to have purchased 
texts also. A bookseller narrates how Tabari, pro¬ 
posing to compose a treatise on Analogy, requested 
him to collect as many treatises on the subject as 
he could procure. The bookseller got together more 
than thirty works on the subject. Presently 
Tabari returned them with many red marks. 

Yaqut devotes a certain amount of space to 
Tabari’s religious opinions, which were strict, 
though in some respects not easy to reconcile with 
the later orthodoxy. He treated Khawfirij and 
Kaw&fi<J as infidels, i.c., persons whoso evidence 
could not be accepted. Pic maintained that there 
was no inheritance between members of different 
sects of the same religious system, whether Mos¬ 
lems, Jews or Christians. On his deathbed lie 
granted forgiveness to all his enemies, except any 
who had charged him with “ innovation ”—which 
lie thought an unpardonable offence. He main¬ 
tained with some vehemence the tradition wliercon 
the Shi'ah base ‘Ali’s appointment to the succes¬ 
sion, but he also was a fervent admirer of the first 
three Caliphs. ^ He had to quit Tabaristan after his 
last visit, because the practice of maligning the 
three Caliphs was rife in the province, and Tabari 
was afraid of personal injury owing to his views. 
The governor of the province sent to have Tabari 
arrested, but he was informed in time by a friend 
and escaped : the friend however was seized and 
scourged. 

‘ He is said to have been too proud to receive any 
gift which was greater than he could match with a- 


HISTORIANS OF THE THIRD CENTURY 109 

return gift. Abu’l-Haija b. Hamdan, who played 
rather a heroic role at the time when Muqtadir had 
been deposed and al-Qahir substituted for him, sent 
Tabari a present o! 3,000 dinars : he declined it on 
the ground that such a present was quite "beyond his 
power to repay. On another occasion when the 
vizier sent him a present of money with the request 
that if he would not accept it himself he would dis¬ 
tribute it among needy and deserving persons, 
Tabari returned it with the observation that the 
vizier would be more likely than himself to know’ of 
such persons. On the other hand he himself sent 
presents to the vizier when the Pilgrim caravan 
brought him his income from his estate in 
Tabari stall. 

The works on which the historian set the 
greatest store were neither the Commentary nor the 
History, but his legal works, the Ikhtilaf, which 
was his first composition, and of about 3,000 leaves, 
his tahdhib al-Athar, an account of the traditions 
of the Prophet on which reliance could be placed, 
and a juristic treatise called al-BasIt. At the time 
of his death he was engaged on a great treatise on 
ethics, similar in plan to the Thya al-‘Utum after¬ 
wards produced by Ghazali. 

Ibn Kamil, who, as has been seen, was a pupil 
of Tabari, describes both his personal appearance, 
and his habits which were marked by scrupulous 
cleanliness; he also tells us how Tabari divided his 
day : from noon till afternoon he was occupied with 
writing. After the afternoon prayer he would 
go to the Mosque and give lessons in the 
Qur'an until the first evening prayer. After this 



110 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


he would give lessons in jurisprudence. Then he 
would return to his house. There was also a lighter 
side to his character, and some anecdotes are 
preserved illustrative of wit and humour. 

A personage with whom he carried on a serious 
controversy was that Dawud b. ‘Ali Ispahani, 
founder of the Zahiri system : a controversy which 
at times was marked by asperity. It is noticeable 
that this person's legal system was destined to win 
wider circulation than Tabari’s ever reached. 

The judgment ol' posterity upon his works is 
probably in favour of his Commentary and his His¬ 
tory, both of which appear to be faithful reproduc¬ 
tions of material which he had collected in his 
travels. He was too decidedly a man of letters to 
possess some of the qualifications of a historian : 
hence when he has to deal with the affairs of his 
own time, he is defective, gives no intelligible ac¬ 
count of the progress of events, omits important de¬ 
tails, whence the all-powerful viziers and Caliphs of 
his time are shadowy figures. He is very much 
more serviceable when he has materials which had 
been worked up by predecessors to reproduce. We 
may well doubt whether it would have been in his 
power to compose a history ten times the bulk of 
that which has been preserved, and probably this 
story should be dismissed as fabulous. 

Since to the Western student the growth of 
Islam by conquest is the matter of the greatest in¬ 
terest, it is unfortunate that this is not a strong 
point with Tabari. A historian who has for his 
subject foreign wars, is compelled to learn some¬ 
thing about the other side: the condition of the 



HISTORIANS OF THE THIRD CENTURY 111 

community, the names and careers of leading 
generals and politicians, and the like. It should 
not have been outside Tabari’s scope to make inves¬ 
tigations of this kind, whence he might have contri¬ 
buted much to an understanding of the Moslem ad¬ 
vance into France and its arrestation by the victory 
of Charles Martel. Towards the end of the fourth 
century an author arises who takes trouble of this 
sort, AbuT-Bihan al-Beruni, but he is altogether 
exceptional. Doubtless the Shnykhs from whom 
Tabari heard and the books to which he had access 
were more profoundly interested in domestic than 
in foreign affairs. 

The work of the great traditionalists who were 
Tabari’s contemporaries consisted in selecting out 
of the vast number of traditions which were current 
such as could be authentic. Their “ conditions ” 
differed, but they were agreed that only a moderate 
number were to be believed and used for legal prac¬ 
tice. Probably we are to regard Tabari as perform¬ 
ing for history a task similar to what Bukhari and 
Muslim did for Tradition : the selection of really 
historical matter out of the quantity of material 
presented by the works of Mada‘ini and others : 
followed by the difficult and to some extent dan¬ 
gerous task of bringing the record up to his own 
time. 

Vast as is Tabari’s historical work we find that 
the transmission of it after his death was by Bawls 
as though it were oral tradition. It was communi¬ 
cated to Miskawaihi by Ibn Kamil: one Ahmad b. 
Abdallah Farghani, 327-398, whose father had beer 
a friend of Tabari, “ transmitted ” the history and 




112 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


the commentary, having learned them from his 
father. The latter had composed a history of his 
own, which this son continued. 

A contemporary of Tabari who also acquired 
fame both as a historian and on other grounds was 
Ahmad b. Dawud Abu Hanlfah al-Dinawari. There 
was some doubt as to the date of his death, accounts 
varying between 282 and 290. His best known 
work was a treatise on botany : he was however 
famous as a stylist, and a debate is recorded which 
took place in the salon of the grammarian Abu 
Sa'id Sirafi as to whether Abu Hanlfah or 
the great Jahiz of Basrah were the better 
stylist. Abu Sa'id endeavoured to settle the con¬ 
troversy, making Abu Hanlfah’s the more idiomatic 
Arabic, whereas Jahiz was the more original in his 
matter, and the more attractive. Abu Hayyan 
Tauhidi, who reported this conversation, declared 
that he placed three writers at the head of all who 
had ever penned any composition: these were 
Jahiz of Basrah, Abu Zaid of Balkh, and Abu 
Hanlfah Dinawari. Of the last he says : “ He 
combined the wisdom of the philosophers with the 
eloquence of the Arabs: in every department of 
knowledge he had a standing; he was a proficient 
astronomer; his work on botany combined the know¬ 
ledge of the Bedouin with the eloquence of the true 
Arab: he had composed a work in thirteen volumes 
on the Qur'an.” He attracted the notice of 
Muwaffaq, the brother of Mu'tamid, who be¬ 
came his patron. He was also a great phi- 
lologer: a story is told of Mubarrad coming 
to Dina war, where his host ‘Isa b. Mahan 



HISTORIANS OF THE THIRD CENTURY 113 

asked him the meaning of a difficult word in the 
Tradition. Mubarrad being unprepared for the 
question, improvised a meaning for the word, and 
when asked for a proof passage, invented a rejez 
couplet for the purpose : then Abu HanTfah was 
announced and the question was put before him. 
He asserted that Mubarrad’s quotation was a for¬ 
gery, and that the word had quite a different sense 
from that which Mubarrad had assigned it. Mubar¬ 
rad was compelled to admit that Abu HanTfah was 
right, and excused himself on the ground that, hav¬ 
ing so great a reputation as a philologer, he was 
ashamed to plead ignorance of the first question 
which was propounded to him. 

The list of his works which Yaqut quotes from 
the Fihrist is very miscellaneous: geography, 
botany, mathematics, philology, and literary history 
are all represented, as well as actual history. One 
volume purporting to be his Book of Lengthy 
Narratives has been published, and it contains a 
sketch of universal history brought down to Mu‘ta- 
sim. It is unlike Tabari in the omission of the 
Ishads : the narrative is continuous, with fairly 
frequent introduction of verses. 

Where the author cites authorities they are 
Kalbi and Haitbam b. ‘Adi. As has been seen, he 
tells history in the style of a romancer, wherein 
private conversations are reported at length and the 
parties are made io bandy verses with each other : 
even at the critical period when Nasr b. Sayyar is 
endeavouring to warn Marwan II of the danger that 
is threatening from Khorasan, the messages are in 
verse. He exhibits little critical power: he re- 

15 



114 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


counts (as we have seen) how one Kirmani sent to 
‘Umar b. Ibrahim, a descendant of Abrahah b. 
Sabbah the last of the Himyari Kings, soliciting a 
copy of the treaty made between Yemen and Rabi'ah 
in the days of Paganism : this request was com¬ 
plied with and a copy of the treaty sent which the 
author inserts at length. It is in classical Arabic 
and rhymed prose and begins with a monotheistic 
invocation. We have in the Marib inscription a 
composition of this Abrahah, and it is in the 
Sabaean language: Dinawari has however no 
suspicions. 

Where this author differs from Tabari, it is 
probable that Tabari’s account should ordinarily be 
preferred. It is noticeable that in narrating the rise 
of the Abbasids he makes no allusion to the suppos¬ 
ed bequest of Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyyah, which 
for other reasons we have seen to be a fiction. There 
can however be no real comparison between his work 
and Tabari’s: a universal history which occupies 
just 400 pages is obviously on a wholly different 
scale from the gigantic work of the other. The sug¬ 
gestion that this is not the book of lengthy narra¬ 
tives which appears in Dinawari’s list seems to have 
much in its favour: as the title does not corres¬ 
pond with the contents. 

Another contemporary is Ahmad b. Abi Tahir, 
who died in 280 and of whose great work on the 
history of Baghdad, its Caliphs, Ameers and their 
days one volume, dealing with the days of Ma‘mun, 
has seen the light. Tabari has been charged with 
plagiarizing from this author, but it is difficult to 
prove this. 



HISTORIANS OF THE THIRD CENTURY 115 


This person’s father’s name was Taifur, and 
he was of Marwarudh. His authority is given as 
‘Umar b. Shabbah, a famous narrator. He began 
as an elementary school teacher. The author whom 
Yaqut follows asserts that he knew of no one who 
had acquired fame as an author and poet who made 
more mistakes in language, metric and statements : 
lie was also notorious for plagiarizing portions of 
other people’s verses. An amusing story is told of 
an expedient whereby he and a friend of his obtained 
assistance at a time when they were both in great 
indigence. Ibn Abi Tahir shammed death and 
his friend went to a great man to solicit help in 
burying him. The great man came to see the corpse 
and scratched the nose: Ibn Abi Tahir sneezed, 
and his friend explained that this was the remains 
of his spirit leaving the body. He would seem to 
have made his living ordinarily by composing en¬ 
comia : a case is recorded wherein he was assigned 
100 dinars for an encomium on the vizier Al-Hasan 
b. Makhlad, of whom Tanukhi tells some strange 
stories. The vizier’s treasurer whose name was 
“ Hope ” declined to pay, asserting that he had 
no order to that effect. Ibn Abi Tahir wrote some 
verses bidding the vizier to be generous while he 
could, as the time might come when he could not: 
and he doubled the gift. The list of his works which 
follows is of great length, mostly biographies of 
poets and selections from their works : there were 
also certain political treatises, some of them, it 
would appear in the form of historical romances, 
a style initiated by Xenophon in his Cyrupaedia. 
An anecdote brings him into communication with 



116 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


Mubarrad, whom he satirized, and indeed vehe¬ 
mently lampooned. 

The rest of the anecdotes in Yaqut’s notice of 
this person throws no light, on his literary activities. 
They consist of fragments of his satires on the 
viziers and other distinguished persons of his time, 
and all that we can infer is that he received Rome 
pension from government funds. To one of the 
viziers he addressed a complaint wheu payment of 
this was delayed, and was reminded that such a 
complaint showed a want of personal pride; Isma‘il 
b. Bulbul, of whom we have heard, promised him 
assistance, but did not actually grant it. Another 
vizier would not grant him admittance. Apparent¬ 
ly his pension was not for historical researches, but 
for his poetry, of which only fragments cited by 
biographers survive. 

A historian who has with justice acquired a 
high reputation, also belonging to this century, is 
Ahmad b. Yahya Baladhuri, who died in 279. He 
was a courtier, quotes information given him bv 
the Caliph Mutawakkil, and was appointed by 
MVtazz teacher of his son ‘Abdallah. 

Like Tabari he travelled far and wide in quest 
of information, to many cities of Syria, and among 
his teachers in Baghdad four men of note are men¬ 
tioned, Ibn Abi Shaibah, Al-Qasim b. Snllnni 
Abu'Ubaid, the famous author of the gharib al- 
hadlth, Mada‘ini and Waqidi’s “ secretary ” 
Muhammad b. Sa‘d. 

His name is said to have been- derived from 
Baludhur a drug which his grandfather drank, and 
which produced madness in him. Besides pursuing 



HISTORIANS OP THE THIRD CENTURY 117 

the study of history he practised the art of satire, 
and indeed ruthlessly : and upon distinguished men. 
An anecdote of considerable interest is told by Yaqut 
on Baladhuri’s own authority. The Caliph Muta- 
wakkil ordered Ibrahim b. ‘Abbas al-Suli to draw up 
a memoir delaying the payment of Kharaj and dat¬ 
ing the commencement of its exaction by a Christian 
month. The memoir was read out in the presence 
of Mutawakkil and the vizier ‘Ubaidallah b. Yahya, 
both of whom expressed their admiration of it. 
Baladhuri was present, and, as he confesses, moved 
by jealousy, remarked that it was defaced by an 
error. None of the others could detect it, but 
Baladhuri had done so. This was that the author 
supposed the Christian days like the Arabic to begin 
with the night, whereas of course they begin with 
the sunrise. The author of the memoir admitted 
his ignorance of the matter, and the Caliph ordered 
him to correct the error. 

Two historical works of his are in our hands. 
One Futuh al-Buldan, is a record of the Islamic 
conquests, wherein each section usually gives some 
details as to the subsequent history of the country. 
The details are often, he tells us, gathered from 
local authorities: he visited the places and learned 
the ideas current on the spot with regard to the name 
of the conqueror, the mode of conquest, and subse¬ 
quent events of importance. These details often 
include the allocation of districts to tribes, the trans¬ 
ference of populations from one place to another, 
the foundations and completions of public monu¬ 
ments or works of utility, the source of particular 
names and other matters which it was important to 



118 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

commemorate. Besides obtaining this local infor¬ 
mation, which was no doubt trustworthy to a great 
extent, he also made use of the works of earlier 
researchers, such as Waqidi through Muhammad b. 

Sa'd, his secretary and the author of the Tabaqat.^ 
That some uncertainty prevailed occasionally on \ 
matters of importance, and considerable inexacti¬ 
tude in dates owing to the practice of oral communi¬ 
cation is clear. Yet it should be admitted that the 
amount of this is less than would have been expect¬ 
ed. Where, as is often the case, Baladhuri reports 
conflicting accounts of the same events, the 
difference is ordinarily far from great. And 
this is true where he reproduces different 
copies of the same treaty. The purport is about the 
same, though the expression, the order of the sen¬ 
tences and occasionally some details have been 
varied by the caprices of the reporters’ memories. 

Of another work by this author, originally in 
40 volumes, Ahlwardt identified one in a Berlin 
MS., Vol. XI, and it is said that others exist at 
Constantinople. This ATisdb al-Ashrdf is not a con¬ 
tinuous history, but a collection of narratives dealing 
with particular events : for the Futuh of the other 
work we should substitute Umur since the MSS. 
are headed by this word. The material of Book 
XI is largely the wars between ‘Abdallah b. al- 
Zubair and ‘Abd al-Malik, and those between the 
KhawSrij of this time and the rivals for the Cali¬ 
phate. A considerable amount of the same matter 
is recorded by Mubarrad in his Kamil, which is a 
linguistic rather than a historical work. Baladhuri 
in this treatise collects narratives which were put 



HISTORIANS OF THE THIRD CENTURY 119 

into shape by ‘Awanah, al-Haitham, al-KaJbi, and 
others: he quotes the ballads connected with the 
occasions very largely, sometimes admitting or ob¬ 
serving that the verses are wrongly assigned, or 
refer to some different occasion. His dating of 
events is careful, but from the nature of his method 
there is no continuous order: the division of the 
history into separate episodes makes him go back¬ 
wards as well as forwards in time. The work is of 
interest as indicating the intermediate stage between 
the separate narrative of Mada'im and the conti¬ 
nuous history such as we find in Tabari. Baladhuri 
groups the events which belong to the same period 
together, but still treats them as units. In Tabari’s 
work they have joined the main stream. At a later 
period they have quite lost their identity. 

An author of this period many of -whose works 
have come down to us is ‘Abdallah b. Muslim b. 
Qutaibah', whose life lasted from 213-270. He was 
q&di of Dinaivar, and is ordinarily known as Ibn 
Qutaibah. His most famous work, which has been 
interpreted by numerous commentators, is Adah al- 
Katib, a manual for the use of “ writers,” i.e ., 
classes in the bureaux. It is one of the three classi¬ 
cal treatises in the department called A dub, belles 
lettres, the other tw'O being the Bayan of Jahiz and 
the Kamil of Mubarrad. Its matter is grammatical 
and linguistic finesse: some centuries later the 
Katib is required to possess encyclopaedic informa¬ 
tion and the manual for his use runs into numerous 
volumes. 

Of Ibn Qutaibah’s historical works, one which 



120 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


is called al-Ma'arif is a compendium of historical 
information largely consisting of lists, facts connect¬ 
ed with the Prophet, genealogical tables, names of 
sects and the like. The utility of the book is un¬ 
questionable, but it can scarcely be called history. 
Another work which is ascribed to him is very differ¬ 
ent in character. This is called “ the Book of 
Sovereignty and Government,” and is a history of 
the Islamic state from the death of the Prophet till 
that of Harnn al-Rashid. Its falsification or ignor¬ 
ance of history is however so glaring that it cannot 
possibly be Ibn Qutaibah’s work. It makes of 
Saffah and the first ‘Abbasid Caliph Abu’ l-‘Abbas 
two different persons : it supposes that Harnn al- 
Rashid was the immediate successor of al-Mahdi, 
who, it says, died of poison administered to him by 
his son ‘Abdallah. No such son is known to have 
existed. The author seems to display special in¬ 
terest in the affairs of Spain, of which he knows 
more than is ordinarily the case with Eastern writ¬ 
ers, and to be a partisan of Malik whom he represents 
as succeeding in a debate with the representatives of 
Abu Hanifah. Perhaps then he is a Spanish 
romancer. Since the death of Harun al-Rashid 
scarcely marks an epoch in Muslim history, his 
ending his work with that event may give a clue to 
his date. He does not appear to allude to any sub¬ 
sequent event: and the mode wherein he deals with 
Harun’s days and the story of the Banu Barmak is 
not unlike that of Tabari : apparently the halo of 
romance came to encircle those persons quite shortly 
after their demise : even in the middle of the third 
century this has taken place. Probably then in 



HISTORIANS OF THE THIRD CENTURY 121 

reckoning this work as of the third century we are 
not going far astray. 

In ease and charm of style this work is one of 
the most attractive of Arabic histories: the author 
is even more dramatic than Abu Hanifah, and 
claims to produce the letters which passed between 
the distinguished personages whose fortunes he 
narrates, and to reproduce their speeches and 
conversations. He rarely enlivens his narra¬ 
tives with quotations of poetry perhaps hold¬ 
ing that his own method of rendering the 
story fascinating was the more likely to succeed. 
Like so many historians lie is a keen partisan of 
‘Ali, and has little sympathy with or admiration for 
Mu'awiyah and his followers : indeed we have to go 
to Baladhnri’s Futiih to appreciate their services to 
Islam : the labours of the Caliphs in organizing and 
administering are passed over with little attention by 
Tabari and others. The Kitab al-imamah is the 
more easily excusable in this matter, since its sub¬ 
ject is clearly neither the expansion of Islam nor its 
internal organization but solely the mode wherein 
the sovereignty was either acquired or claimed : 
and since the events which followed on 
the murder of ‘Uthman were of the utmost impor¬ 
tance for the decision of this matter, the author is 
justified in treating them exhaustively, to the exclu¬ 
sion of other sorts of history. The chief exception 
made by this author is that of the campaign where¬ 
by the Maghrib and Spain were w r on under ‘Abd al- 
Malik’s sons, the hero of the campaign being Musa 
b. Nusair, who experienced terrible ingratitude for 
his services from the Caliph Sulaiman. Some 
16 



122 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


fabulous matter which meets us in later histories of 
these conquests already figures in this work, which 
in the main seems in these matters to adhere to 
facts. He rarely gives any authorities for his state¬ 
ments : it is noticeable that he quotes al*Haytham 
b. ‘Adi with the formula “ they state that al-Hay- 
tham said,” suggesting that the works of this collec¬ 
tor were known to the author by oral conuminication 
rather than from copies. When he produces letters 
his formula is “ they state ” that the following 
letter was sent by one person to another, and “ they 
mention ” that the latter sent the following reply. 
As has been seen, we find other writers produce the 
letters written on some of these occasions and they 
only agree to the extent which the circumstances 
under which they are said to have been written de¬ 
mand. Such document.?, and such speeches or con¬ 
versations as are produced together with them, do 
something to enliven the history and render it vivid, 
but of course they are not a source of information. 
Certain facts were too well-known .and too moment¬ 
ous to be shaken : the troubles which confronted ‘Ali 
when he was put on the throne, loading to the rise 
of the TJmayyad power: the transference of the 
seat of government from Medinah to Iraq and to 
Damascus : it might be said that every one who 
learned that the Prophet had migrated to Medina!) 
and made the latter the metropolis of an 
empire would wish to know how the metro¬ 
polis of Islam had come to be removed elsewhere, 
and how the family of Muhammad’s most persistent 
opponent had come to inherit his throne. The 
narrator of these events could, if lie chose, enliven 



HISTORIANS OF THE THIRD CENTURY 123 

them by making the parties talk, and where they 
were at a distance correspond : but the conversa¬ 
tions and the letters were deduced from the facts, not 
vice versa. And since, as we have seen, different 
historians furnish different signatures to the same 
document, it is probable that the subordinate char¬ 
acters, who come in as messengers, or friends to be 
consulted, or officers in subordinate posts, are large¬ 
ly introduced by conjecture, though at times there 
may have been traditions in old families that an 
ancestor had taken part in one of these important 
events. 

The author’s imagination is strained in repro¬ 
ducing lengthy debates wherein many persons take 
part, e.g.y when Mu'awiyah proposes to proclaim 
Yazid and to demand that homage be sworn to him. 
There is a whole series of speeches, most in favour, 
some against the proposal : presently Mu'awiyah 
goes to Medinah in order to promote this project 
there and his conversations with the leading perso¬ 
nages are repeated. He visits ‘A'ishah, whose ad¬ 
dress to him is so eloquent that he is afraid to reply 
for fear of revealing his inferiority. 

If the work before us is all by the same hand, 
the author cannot be acquitted of the charge of care¬ 
lessness. He gives at the end of the first volume an 
exhaustive account of the affair of the Hurrah, i.e., 
the refusal of the people of Medinah to swear alle¬ 
giance to Yazid after the death of Mu'awiyah, and 
the mission of Muslim b. ‘Uqbah to reduce 
the place, with a selection from the terrible 
cruelties which were practised during the three days 
wherein Medinah was given up to pillage. But 



124 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

when we come to the second volume the author has 
apparently forgotten all this thrilling and elaborate 
narrative, and gives another sket-ch of the same 
events without even a suggestion that the whole has 
been told already. Such procedure surprises us less 
in cases where an author is transcribing passages 
from a predecessor, without perhaps attending very 
carefully to their content: but it is astonishing in 
what is clearly intended as a work ol art. 

Although a historian writing under the Abba- 
sids such as the real lbn QuUibah might he expect¬ 
ed to be prejudiced against the Umayyads and say 
little in their favour, this author cannot be charged 
with excessive partisanship in this matter. About 
two of the Umayyad princes lie is enthusiastic; 
these are Omar b. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, who, as an ascetic 
and admirer of ‘Ali is excepted even by Slii'ite 
authors from the general condemnation; in bis case 
the author reports some miracles of a rather naive 
sort. He is however even more effusive in his 
praise of Hisham b. ‘Abd al-Malik, whose days he 
regards as the zenith of the Caliphate : lie received 
the tribute of the whole world, and by his staid and 
firm administration of justice, his readiness to 
listen to appeals, and the elaborate organization 
whereby he ascertained all that was going on in all 
parts of the empire, he produced a period of peace 
and prosperity such as had been previously un¬ 
known. These two sovereigns according to the 
author were very different in character notwithstand¬ 
ing their success as rulers : Omar II was so scrupu¬ 
lous about the use of the public money that he let his 
family go in rags: Ilisham was so extravagant that 


HISTORIANS OF THE THIRD CENTURY 125 

when he died there was not enough left to cover his 
funeral expenses. Whether the pictures drawn be 
faithful or not, this author’s accounts of the separate 
Caliphs leave clear and vivid impressions, such as 
cannot so well be obtained from the dry narrative 
of Tabari. 

A far more serious historian on a small scale is 
the writer known as Yaqubi, Ahmad b. Ishaq b. 
Ja'far. Yaqut has only a few lines about him, 
quoting a notice occurring in a historical work by 
Muhammad b. Yusuf al-Kindi which stated that he 
died in 284. He belonged to a family of clerks, and 
travelled far and wide; he composed a work on geo¬ 
graphy which was included by the de Goeje in his 
Library of Geographers. His historical work fol¬ 
lows a plan which must have required considerable 
research to execute. Astrological details are given 
for the commencement of every reign, whence ex¬ 
perts would be able to see how the course of events 
followed the conditions of the planets at its inau¬ 
guration. At the end of each reign he records the 
names of the persons who had most influence with 
the sovereign, who led the Pilgrimage in each year, 
who conducted the raids, and who distinguished 
themselves as jurists. For the period of the Cali¬ 
phate he rarely cites earlier historians; as he ap¬ 
proaches his own time he occasionally mentions 
persons from whom he had derived information. 
His information for the time covered by his own 
life is exceedingly scanty, and is confined to the 
merest skeleton; for the Umayyad period and the 
early Abbasids he is somewhat fuller. He produces 
a large number of letters and speeches, some of 



126 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


which are recorded by other historians; some¬ 
times he describes the orations as “ famous,” 
and these are likely to be historical. He is a great 
admirer of ‘Ali and deeply interested in the Imams, 
his descendants; many pages are devoted to wise and 
pious sayings attributed to these persons. Since 
he speaks of the Mutazilite doctrine as tanhid 
“ monotheism,” it may be inferred that his sym¬ 
pathies were with that school, since that was the 
title which they themselves employed. He does 
not seem to have shared the scepticism which is 
associated with their system, since he records many 
a miraculous occurrence. His interest in ethics is 
evidently strong. He cites at length the dying in¬ 
junctions of the Caliph Mansur to his son, which 
are injunctions to virtue and piety, though this 
sovereign appears from the record to have been one 
of the most unscrupulous that ever reigned. 

His information can occasionally be used to 
supplement the statements of Tabari, but it is too 
scanty to perform any considerable service in this 
respect. His work may be regarded as a serious 
compendium of the national history for the use of 
students, who had not time or desire to pursue the 
study very profoundly. The arrangement of the 
material according to reigns—unlike Tabari’s 
arrangement by years—resembles that which is 
adopted in modern works of an analogous nature. 
The limited space which he allotted himself renders 
his accounts of events obscure, as he rarely has 
found room to explain their causes, and he possesses 
no great skill in selecting for narration those acts 
which are most indicative of character. 



HISTORIANS OF THE THIRD CENTURY 127 

Although Tabari performed a noble service in 
collecting and arranging in chronological order the 
narratives which his predecessors had composed, 
and endeavouring to bring the history down to his 
own time, his work docs not altogether supply the 
want of official and contemporary records for the 
earlier period. We may instance the story of the 
rise of the ‘Abbasids. Tabari tells us how the 
claim made by Husain to the Caliphate fell after 
his death to Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyyah, who 
transmitted it to the series of aspirants among 
whom al-Safffth ultimately succeeded. But he also 
claims to produce the propagandist correspondence 
wherein Mansur defended his claim : and in this 
letter there is nothing about Ibn al-Hanafiyyah : 
Mansur claims the Caliphate on the ground that he 
is the representative of the Prophet’s believing 
uncle, and this is the argument which the en¬ 
comiasts of the ‘Abbasids are never tired of produ¬ 
cing. Yet in arguing with a descendant of ‘Ali 
Mansur would surely have had a powerful weapon 
in the transmission of the claim from ‘Ali to Ibn al- 
Hanafiyyah and from the latter to an ‘Abbasid. 
It would seem then to be probable that this theory 
of transmission was produced some time after 
Mansur’s controversy, as a reply to the ‘Alawids, 
who were perpetually producing pretenders to the 
sovereignty. In this case as in some others in¬ 
consistencies escape Tabari’s attention, when from 
his training as a jurist he might have been expected 
to notice them. 



LECTURE VII. 


Historians of the Fourth Century. 

Arabic historical literature reaches its highest 
level in the century which witnessed the rise of the 
Buwaihids. Two authors in particular will occupy 
us: Miskawaihi and Muhassin Tanukhi. The 
former was a student of Tabari’s work which lie 
heard from that Ibn Kamil who was the chief source 
of the biography of Tabari which was translated in 
the last lecture. Up to his own time he is a compiler 
utilizing the materials supplied him by Tabari and 
chiefly Thalit b. Sinan. When he comes to his 
own time, he tells us he obtained his information 
chiefly from two eminent men, well qualified to 
give it, the vizier of Mu‘izz nl-daulah, al-Muhallabi 
Abu Muhammad nl-Hnssn, and the vizier of Rukn 
al-daulah Abu 1 ‘Fadl Ibn nl-‘Amid, whose librarian 
lie was. He himself was afterwards in the service 
of the greatest of the Buwaihids, Adud al-daulah, 
after which time accounts of him become obscure. 
There is reason for thinking that he was employed 
by ‘Adud al-daulah’s son and successor Balia al- 
daulah and certain anecdotes bring him into close 
connexion with the famous vizier of Fakhr al- 
daulah, Ibn ‘Ahbad. 

It is not clear whether Miskawaihi was him¬ 
self a convert to Islam from Parsism, or whether 



HISTORIANS OF THE FOURTH CENTURY 129 

that step had been taken by his father, whom he 
calls ‘Abdallah, a name often employed almost in the 
sense of “ some-one.” Skill in the Persian 
language had become a matter of importance when 
the ruler of Baghdad used that as his official 
language, as was the case with the early Buwaihids. 
Miskawaihi was sufficient of an expert in Pahlavi 
to translate an ethical work from that language into 
Arabic. He was also a master of the Arabic 
language, and tells us that his verses won the ap¬ 
proval of that competent critic Ib'n aPAmid. Con¬ 
temporary evidence is also in favour of his reputa¬ 
tion as a versifier. 

Any one who proceeds from the study of Tabari 
to that of Miskawaihi will find that the latter’s quali¬ 
fications for the composition of history are very 
much greater than those of his predecessor. For 
his own time he had the great advantage of personal 
acquaintance with the prominent personages : he 
was able to obtain his information at first hand. 
Moreover owing to his holding office, not indeed 
very high, at the Buwaihid court's, he had an ac¬ 
quaintance with methods of administration and of 
the warfare of the time which enabled him to des¬ 
cribe events with intelligence and judge perform¬ 
ances with knowledge. Whereas Tabari gives very 
scanty information about the economy of the empire, 
the sources and method of taxation and the like, 
Miskawaihi is particularly copious and instructive 
on this subject. His comments on military matters, 
such as the causes of the failure of Muhallabi in 
quelling the rebellion in the marshes, or the 
mistakes of Bakhtiyar in his war with 

17 


130 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


‘Adul al-daulal» compare very favourably with 
the lengthy account by Tabari of Mu waff aq’8 war 
in -the same region, whence we learn little about the 
causes of success or failure. 

Miskawaihi is singularly outspoken in his 
judgments, and free from most forms of partisan¬ 
ship. Though a servant of the Buwaibids lie makes 
no concealment of their crimes, and indeed at times 
condemns them in vehement language. The founder 
of the dynasty, Tmad al-daulah, is represented by 
him as an unprincipled adventurer. Muhallabi’s 
master, Mu'izz al-daulah, is reprehended in the very 
strongest terms for the treachery wherewith he 
started his career: in the case of ‘Adud al-daulah 
he recognizes certain virtues and many talents, 
attributing his success as a ruler largely to the train¬ 
ing of Ibn al-‘Amid, but he makes no concealment 
of ‘Adud al-daulah’s unscrupulous ambitions, and 
can say little more in summing up his career than 
that in consideration of the good which he did, 
there is hope that he may obtain the divine pardon. 
It is interesting to compare the cautious and judici¬ 
ous summary of ‘Adud al-daulah’s career, with 
which his chronicle terminates, with the lengthy 
and extravagant eulogy which Rudlibari, who lived 
under the Seljuqs, devotes to this personage. 

Unlike Tabari, who is a theologian and faqih, 
Miskawaihi exhibits very little religious partisan¬ 
ship. It would be possible to read his volumes with¬ 
out—except in one passage—learning that the 
author was a Moslem. For a part of this period it 
might be expected that religious fanaticism would 
have been fanned into flame : it was the time when 


Historians of the fourth century 131 


the Byzantine emperor Nicephorus, owing to the 
weakness of the Caliphate, was reconquering cities 
and provinces. The hero of the fights with the 
Christians at this time was Saif al-daulah, who at 
one time occupied Baghdad, having been in com¬ 
mand of the forces of his brother Nasir al-daulah : 
his valour against the Byzantines is immortalized 
in Mufcanabbi’s verse. In Miskawaihi’s account 
Saif al-daulah appears as a person of very moderate 
capacity, who proved on many occasions an incom¬ 
petent commander. The fact that he sustained 
many serious defeats in his wars with the Byzan¬ 
tines is openly acknowledged. What pleases him 
more than anything in ‘Adud al-daulah is his large- 
minded toleration to the different religious commu¬ 
nities, which resulted in peace and prosperity. 

Probably Miskawaiki was too prone to pass 
unfavourable judgments on the persons whose careers 
he records. His narrative is largely a narrative of 
ambition, intrigue, and treachery, with few redeem¬ 
ing features. Even the virtuous vizier, ‘Ali b. ‘Isa, 
is charged by him with ambition and the desire to 
monopolize the administration : his admiration for 
Mukallabi does not prevent his recording the un¬ 
scrupulous extortion whereby he obtained money for 
Mu'izz al-daulah’s palace. In order to justify his 
title “ The Experiences of the Nations'” he has to 
record scandals which otherwise would be regarded 
as unedifying: the tricks whereby viziers were 
overthrown or appointed, the sordid lures whereby 
men were induced to betray their masters or rela¬ 
tives,* the place occupied in great afFairs of state by 
superstition and stupidity. Probably he would 



132 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


have defended his persistence in recording these 
matters by the need for the instruction of states¬ 
men. 

Although Miskawaihi is not a writer who aims 
at elegance, like ‘Utbi or afterwards ‘Imad al-din, 
he displays great power both as a portrayer of 
character and as a narrator of thrilling scenes. The 
numerous figures who come to the front in the pro¬ 
cess whereby the Caliphate gave way to the domina¬ 
tion of foreign adventurers, and in the period which 
follows, are easily distinguishable and their features 
adhere to the memory. For the earlier 
period one may illustrate by the career of the 
Baridis, with Abu Abdallah as the towering figure 
of the trio. Miskawaihi has been criticized for 
attributing to the weak and fickle Muqtadir the ruin 
of the Caliphate and the break up of the empire : but 
with the example before him of what had been done 
by the capable Mu'tadid in restoring the might of 
both after the long period of anarchy which ensued 
on the death of Muthawakkil it is not clear that he 
is mistaken. 

Intentionally or otherwise he has introduced 
into his narrative a series of thrilling scenes, which 
when once read are not easily forgotten. Such are 
the trial of Haliaj, the death of Ibn al-Furat and 
his son Muhassin, the loyalty of Abu’l-Haija the 
Hamdaind to al-Qahir when he had first been put 
on Muqtadir’s throne, tht imprisonment and death 
of the vizier Ibn Muqlah. 

If it is true that Miskawaihi was by profession 
a medical man, he has allowed few traces of that 
profession to appear in the work : only once, appa- 


HISTORIANS OF THE FOURTH CENTURY 133 


rently, does he display any special knowledge of 
medical technicalities. Abu Hayyan asserts that 
he wasted his time and substance on the pursuit of 
alchemy : of this his work appears to offer no trace. 
Like other savants of his time he attached some 
importance to astrology: thus he explains the al¬ 
most simultaneous demise of a number of eminent 
princes in the year 356 by an astrological conjunc¬ 
tion : but in the portion of his chronicle which has 
been edited and translated astrology is far less pro¬ 
minent than in the fragment of Hilal’s history, 
where an extraordinary anecdote of a successful pre¬ 
diction is produced. 

In the main Miskawaihi displays an attitude of 
scepticism towards the supernatural, which is very 
like that of our own times : when he tells a case of 
a veridical dream, an experience of Rukn al-daulah 
which was afterwards exactly realised, he apologizes 
for narrating it; only the high authority of his patron 
Ibn al-‘Amid, and his great reputation as a philoso¬ 
pher justify him in telling such a story. In his 
account of the trial and death of the mystic Hallaj 
he clearly regards this man as a vulgar impostor : 
nevertheless he appears to find fault with the vizier 
Hamid b. al-‘ Abbas for urgently demanding his 
execution, though 5amid seems to have been 
moved thereto by a genuine belief that such claims 
as Hallaj made constituted a danger to the empire. 

The class to which Miskawaihi belonged, and 
with whose interests he is mainly in sympathy, is 
that of the Kdtibs or state-secretaries, who in his 
opinion had a right to the vizierate, since it was 
only through the training which their profession re- 



134 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

quired that the proper qualifications for that office 
could be obtained. They were the persons who 
not only learned the proper style for the composition 
of state-papers, but they also were initiated into 
those geographical and statistical details which were 
required for the financial administration of the em¬ 
pire. Hence lie so bitterly resents the promotion to 
the vizierate of Abu Tahir Il>n Baqiyyah, who com¬ 
menced life as an official in the royal kitchen, but 
by competence rose to the highest place. Neverthe¬ 
less his story shows this Ibn Baqiyyah in favourable 
contrast to Bakhtiyar as a man of courage, resource, 
and resolution. 

Miskawaihi at times mentions his authorities, 
and these are usually members of this profession : 
what might be called permanent officials of the. 
bureaux, or at any rate persons who had been in the 
employ of the viziers and thus had had access to the 
talk of the court, wherein many secrets, not always 
of a creditable sort, were divulged. Abu Slmja' 
asserts that he copied almost verbally the history of 
the Buwaihids, composed by the secretary Abu 
Ishaq Ibrahim, and called the Taji after ‘Adud al- 
daulah’s title Taj al-Millah. If this be the case, it 
is observable that Miskawaihi nowhere acknow¬ 
ledges this obligation, as he does to a chronicler of 
the same sect, Thabit b. Sinan. The fragments of 
the Taji preserved by ‘Utbi and Tha’alibi are not 
sufficient to enable us to tel) -whether Abu Shuja’s 
assertion is near the facts or not. One would ex¬ 
pect that the style of Ibrahim the Sabian would 
exhibit more literary artifice than Miskawaihi, w-ho 
is throughout exceedingly simple, displays. 



HISTORIANS OF THE FOURTH CENTURY 135 

If the story be true that Ibrahim described his 
history as a pack of lies, and thereby came near 
incurring ‘Adud al-daulah’s vengeance, this would 
throw grave doubts on Miskawaihi’s record of the 
beginnings of the Buwaihids. That narrative rarely 
excites suspicion, as it is far from favourable to the 
family : of whose founder, Buwaihi, it says nothing. 
Later authors introduce the inevitable dream where¬ 
by the fame of his descendants is announced to this 
personage. ‘Imad al-daulah, the real founder of 
their fortunes, is represented as a dexterous, but 
quite unscrupulous adventurer. The story that 
with a force of 300 he defeated an imperial army of 
10,000 suggests doubts as to the figures, but in Mis¬ 
kawaihi’s account it explains the ease with which 
‘Imad al-daulah was able to collect an army round 
him : nothing succeeds like success. The stories of 
the extraordinary luck whereby ‘Imad al-daulah ac¬ 
quired wealth seem more like fabrications : the dis¬ 
covery of secret hoards was often claimed by sover¬ 
eigns who wished to escape the ignominy which 
attached to the accumulation of wealth by extortion. 
‘Adud al-daulah himself is said to have revised 
Ibrahim’s narrative before publication, and though 
we know of him as a capable but ambitious and 
unscrupulous ruler, we do not know to what extent 
he would have wished to glorify his relatives. His 
father Kukn al-daulah receives from Miskawaihi by 
far the most favourable notice : but it appears from 
the narrative that the relations between ‘Adud al- 
daulah and his father were strained to the breaking 
point, owing to Bukn al-dualah’s loyalty to the 
memory of his brother Mu'izz al-daulah, whose son 


136 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

Bakhtiyar ‘Adud al-daulah wished to oust from his 
throne, as eventually he succeeded in doing. The 
expedient whereby a final meeting between father 
and son was arranged without derogation to the dig¬ 
nity of either evidently rests in Miskawaihi's narra¬ 
tive on the authority of some member of the ‘Amid 
family. 

For the part of Miskawaihi’s narrative which 
precedes that for which he claims the authority of 
the viziers whom he served his main source is doubt¬ 
less the history of Thabit b. Sinan, who died in 365, 
and whose history extended from the commencement 
of Muqtadir’s reign to the year 361. Miskawaihi 
occasionally quotes him for his personal experiences : 
being court physician he had access to many state 
secrets. The usurper Bachkam asked him for ad¬ 
vice on the question how to practice self-control : 
and he advised this remarkable personage to delay 
punishment, and so give his passion time to cool. 
He attended the vizier Ibn Muqlah when his hand 
had been amputated, and Miskawaihi produces a 
thrilling scene. This author belonged to the Snhian 
community, of which we should like to know more : 
they produced several persons famous as scientists, 
physicians and secretaries of state. Hilal, who 
took up Thabit’s history where it ended, and of 
whose work a fragment is preserved, was the first of 
his family to accept Islam. This court physician, 
like the famous Bakhtishu* family, would be an ex¬ 
cellent authority for the affairs of his time : and other 
authorities whom Miskawaihi could and did employ 
were secretaries of state or persons connected with 
those who were behind the scenes, and were ac- 



HISTORIANS OF THE FOURTH CENTURY 137 


quainted with the hidden motives, and not unwilling 
to reveal them. 

One other authority utilized by Miskawaihi 
was a work still in existence, the waraqah or “leaf” 
of Muhammad b. Yahya Suli, like Bal&dhuri a 
companion and entertainer of many Caliphs, who 
died in 336. Tic was famous as a chess player : bis 
play according to one of these Caliphs was a fairer 
sight than any which could be imagined. His skill 
at the game was so great that some supposed him to 
have invented it! Yaqut’s notice of him is unfor¬ 
tunately very scanty, but from his association with 
the Caliphs he had the opportunities which were so 
valuable of understanding the secrets of the adminis¬ 
tration, the intrigues which were constantly in 
operation for the upsetting of viziers and provincial 
governors. His literary work besides the "memoirs 
called al-Waraqah contained lists of poets and mcTi 
of note, a history of the viziers which is occasionally 
quoted, and a history of the. Qarmatians, which 
might be of value, since the accounts which we pos¬ 
sess of this remarkable and terrible sect are all of 
them so hostile that our knowledge of it is scanty 
and supplements would be desirable. Even Tabari, 
who witnessed the origin of the movement, is unable 
to do more than offer guesses about the origin of the 
name. In the Jewish Arabic of the time the verb 
means “ to rebel,” but it is obvious that this verb is 
derived from the name of the sect. 

Muhassin b. ‘Ali al-Tanukhi was not like 
Miskawaihi a Persian by origin, but of a true Arab 
tribe, Tanukh, which produced in the next century 
the famous AbuVAla Ma'arri. His grandfather is 

18 


138 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

mentioned in a story told in the Table-talk : Antioch, 
where the family was settled, had during the troubles 
of the Zanji rebellion, been occupied by the Byzan¬ 
tines, and recovered by Mu'tadid, who vowed that 
he would rase the walls. The citizens dreaded this 
measure, and sent a deputation, headed by Tanukhi, 
to request the Caliph to desist from so perilous a 
measure. The Caliph however, having sw r orn to do 
something, could not change : the expedient suggest¬ 
ed by Tanukhi, and which found acceptance, was 
that men should be employed for one day to demo¬ 
lish the wall, but that after that all able-bodied men 
in the city should unite in repairing it. This person’s 
son ‘Ali who was born in 278 left Antioch in his 
youth for Baghdad, studied law in the system of Abu 
Hanifah, and was made judge of several districts in 
Iraq : he came near being made chief justice in 
Baghdad itself. Like other eminent officials his 
services were employed by the adventurers who rose 
to power at this time on confidential missions or 
other occasions when trustworthy agents were 
wanted. 

His skill in a variety of descriptions is cele¬ 
brated, chief among these being poetry; when he 
lost his post in Baghdad, he took refuge with Saif 
al-daulah, whom he eulogized in verse : and Saif al- 
daulah, whose taste in such matters was indisputa¬ 
ble, was so pleased with the compliment that he 
used his influence to get him re-instated. His 
grandson 'Ali b. Muhassin was also a man of note, 
being one of the instructors of the Khatib Baghdadi. 
Of more permanent fame than either of these is the 
intermediate Muhassin b. ‘Ali, whose life lasted 




HISTORIANS OF THE FOURTH CENTURY 139 

from 329-384: he was born in Bashrah and died in 
Baghdad. He was for a time deputy qaqli to the 
chief justice Ibn Abi’l-Shawarib, and afterwards 
held Judgeships m various cities of Mesopotamia 
and Persia, separately and combined. He owed his 
promotion to the vizier Muhallabi, who put on a 
special appearance of intimacy with this Tanukhi to 
impress the chief justice, who was duly impressed 
“ and almost carried me on his heart.” He got 
into favour with ‘Adud al-daulah, who apparently 
admired his poetry and requested him to commerce 
the recitations at his receptions. He lost favour 
with the Buwaihid prince when they were in Hama- 
dhan, and when the prince was visited by his bro¬ 
ther’s vizier the Sahib Ibn ‘Abbad the prince in¬ 
tended to arrest the Sahib, and Tanukhi was 
charged with having heard and divulged this secret, 
whereby the plan was frustrated. The story, in 
which Tankuhi denies the charge, but managed to 
avenge himself on his accusers, is told at rather 
tedious length and in a manner which sheds a pain¬ 
ful light on the morals of the time. Tanukhi ad¬ 
mits that he received some handsome gifts from the 
Sahib, but does not say for what services : ‘Adud 
al-daulah supposed it was for this communication. 
This offence however was pardoned, and at a later 
period ‘Adud al-daulah employed him on a mission 
to the Caliph of so difficult and disagreeable a nature 
that he shammed sickness to be relieved of it. By 
a ruse ‘Adud al-daulah discovered that the sickness 
was counterfeited, and forbade the qadi to leave his 
house : he had to be interned there till the prince 
died. 


140 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


Three works of this person arc in existence in 
whole or part. One is a collection of saying attri¬ 
buted to Apostles and other persons of importance. 
Another, probably the best known, is his Deliver¬ 
ance after Stress , of which something has previously 
been said: the largest, which it took him twenty 
years, from 360-380, to compose is called ‘' Collec¬ 
tion of Histories” or ‘‘The Cud of Table-talk,” in 
eleven volumes, of which the first has been published 
with translation, and the eighth is about to be pub¬ 
lished. Whether the remaining nine volumes are 
anywhere in existence is at present unknown. The 
work is quoted by a great number of writers (several 
of whom misread the first word of the title) as it 
is a storehouse of anecdotes belonging to very differ¬ 
ent regions. The author, who prefixed a preface 
.to each part, gives a list of about a hundred different 
subjects treated : and he seems even in the first- 
volume to have kept his promise about all. Living 
all his life in the society of the prominent person¬ 
ages in Iraq, or Persia, and in particular coming into 
close contact with persons who had collected all they 
could discover about the history of their immediate 
predecessors and their contemporaries, he was able 
to acquire a great deal of curious information, which 
forms a welcome supplement to the meagre chronicle 
of Tabari. Much of his information has also reached 
the treatise on the viziers by Ililnl who embodies 
the same traditions, sometimes mentioning this 
Tanukhi’s name, sometimes only Tanukhi’s autho¬ 
rity. In the latter case it may be that he received 
the same tradition from another hearer. The occa¬ 
sions wherein he coincides with Miskawaihi in the 



filSTORIANS OF THE FOURTH CENTURY 141 

reproduction of matter are rarer, though without 
access to the whole of the work, nothing precise can 
be said about their relation. 

It is in the main Tanukhi’s intention to res¬ 
trict his work to anecdotes which had not previously 
been published in any book : but he does not observe 
that rule very strictly. Several are to be found in 
both volumes which were also introduced by him in¬ 
to his earlier work “ Deliverance after Stress.” Ir» 
the main, however, the matter which he inserted 
in his “ Table-talk ” is likely to have been trans¬ 
mitted orally up to that time, after which biogra¬ 
phers and historians made use of it for their own 
purposes. In Yaqut’s biographical Dictionary 
many anecdotes both from the found volumes and 
the lost are reproduced, having been noticed by 
Yaqut when collecting his material for the biogra¬ 
phies. Abu 'Ali, a common kunyah wdrich varies 
its import with the subject which is being treated, 
in Yaqut’s Dictionary usually means TanukEi. 

The anecdotes which refer to the viziers of the 
fourth century, Ibn al-Furat, ‘Ali B. ‘ Isa, Ibn 
Muqlah, and others, got into Hilal’s treatise on the 
Viziers : unfortunately that work like Jahshiyari’s 
is fragmentary, and though Miskawaihi is copious in 
his treatment of the Buwaihid viziers, many an 
anecdote which belongs to this period, and rests on 
good authority, has escaped him, or not been thought 
worthy of insertion by him. These are invariably 
of interest for the light which they throw either on 
the manners of the time or the characters of the 
leading men. The period however for which 
Tanukhi’s collections are of the greatest value is for 


142 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

the third century of Islam, where after the death of 
Ma'mun the chronicles become curiously inadequate. 
The relations beween the viziers, the intrigues 
•whereby they secured office, the various degrees of 
gratitude and ingratitude which they displayed, 
their superstitions and fancies, are illustrated with 
great clearness, and figures like those of Sa’id, 
‘Ubaidallah b. Qasim, Isma’il b. Bulbul, and Ibn 
al-Furat’s brother ‘Abbas b. Muhammad, which in 
the chronicle are shadowy, gradually acquire flesh 
and blood. 

Here is one of Tanukhi’s Indian tales. He in¬ 
cludes it in his work Deliverance after Stress as w r ell 
as in the Table-talk. 

I was told by Abi‘l-Husain, who was told by 
Abi Fadl b. Bahmad of Siraf, who was famous for 
his expeditions to the most distant countries separa¬ 
ted by seas. I was told, he said, by one of the Indian 
Maisiir (a word which means one who is born in 
India as a Moslem), how he was in a certain Indian 
state where the King was of good character. He 
would however neither take nor give facing any one, 
but would turn his hand behind his back and take 
and give thus. This was out of respect for his 
office, and in acordance with their practice. This 
particular King died, when his tin-one was seized by 
an usurper: a son of the former king, who was 
suited to reign, fled for fear of his life from the man 
who bad seized the power. It is a practice of the 
Indian kings that if one of them leave his seat for 
any purpose, he must have on him a vest, with a 
pocket containing all sorts of precious gems, such as 
rubies, folded in satin. The value of these gems is 



HISTORIANS OF THE FOURTH CENTURY 143 

sufficient to found a kingdom with if necessary. 
Indeed they say he is no king who leaves his seat 
without having on his person sufficient for the estab¬ 
lishment of a great kingdom should a disaster com¬ 
pel him to take flight. 

When the catastrophe which has been men¬ 
tioned befell the realm, the son of the deceased king 
look his vest and fled with it. He afterwards rela¬ 
ted how he walked for three days. During these he 
tasted no food, having with him neither silver nor 
gold wherewith he could purchase any, being too 
proud to beg, and unable to exhibit what he had on 
his person. So, he said I sat on the kerb, and 
presently an Indian approached with a wallet on his 
shoulder. He put this down, and sat down in front 
of me. I asked him where he was going. He 
mentioned a certain Judain (an Indian word for 
hamlet). I told him that I was making for the 
same, and suggested that we should be companions, 
to which he agreed. I was hoping that he would 
offer me some of his food. He took up his wallet, 
ate, while I watched him, but offered me nothing, 
while I was unwilling to take the initiative and ask. 
He then packed up his wallet, and started to walk. 
I started walking after him, hoping that humanity, 
good fellowship and honour would induce him to be¬ 
have differently. However he acted at night as he 
had acted in the day. Next morning we started 
walking again, and his conduct was the same as 
before. This went on for seven days, during which 
I tasted nothing. On the eighth I found myself 
very weak, without power to move. Then I noticed 
a hamlet by the roadside, and men building with a 





144 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


foreman directing them. So I quitted my compa¬ 
nion and went up to the manager and asked him to 
employ me for a wage to be paid me in the evening 
like the others. He said, Very well, hand them the 
mortar. So I proceeded to take the mortar, and in 
accordance with the royal custom I kept turning mv 
hand behind my back to hand them the mortar : only 
whenever I recollected that this was a mistake and 
might forfeit me my life, I hastened to correct it 
and turn my hand in the right direction before I 
attracted attention. However, he said, a woman 
who . was standing there noticed me and told her 
master about me, adding that I must certainly be of 
a royal family. So he told her to see that I did not 
go off with the other bricklayers, and she retained 
me, they went off. The master then brought me oil 
and scent for ablution, which is their mode of 
showing honour. When I had washed they brought 
rice and fish, wdiich I ate. The woman then offered 
herself in marriage to me, and 1 made the contract, 
w'hieh was immediately carried out. I remained 
with her four years, looking after her estate, as she 
was a woman of fortune. ■ One day, when I was sea ted 
at the door of her house, there appeared a native of 
my country. ‘ I asked him in, and when he entered, 
inquired whence he came. He mentioned my own 
country, and I asked him, What are you doing here? 
He replied : We had a virtuous King, and when he 
died his throne was seized by a man who was not of 
the royal blood : the former king had a son qualified 
to reign, who, fearing for his life, took to flight. 
The usurper oppressed his subjects, who rose and put 
him to death. We are now wandering over the 


HISTORIANS OF THE FOURTH CENTURY 145 

countries in search of the son of the deceased king 
with the intention of setting him on his father’s 
seat: only we have no trace of him —I said to him 
Do you know me? He said, No.—I told him that I 
was the person he was seeking, and produced the 
tokens : he admitted the truth of what I said, and 
made obeisance. T hade him conceal our business 
till we had reached the country, and he agreed. I 
then went to my wife and told her the facts, includ¬ 
ing the whole story ! I then gave her the vest, with 
an account of its contents and its purpose. I told 
her I was going with the man, and if his story 
turned out to be true, the token should be that my 
messenger should come to her and remind her of the 
vest: in that case she was to come away with him. 
If the story proved to be a plot, then the vest was to 
be her property. The prince went with the man, 
whose story proved to be true. When he approached 
the city he was greeted with homage, and was seated 
on the throne. He sent some one to fetch his wife. 
When they were re-united and he was established on 
his throne, he ordered a vast mansion to be erected, 
to which every one who passed through his territory 
should be brought to be entertained there for three 
days, and furnished with provisions for three more. 
This he did having in his mind the man wh'o had 
been his companion on his journey, who, he ima¬ 
gined would fall into his hand. He also in building 
this mansion wished to manifest gratitude to Al¬ 
mighty God for deliverance from his troubles while 
saving people from the distress which had befallen 
him. After a year he inspected the guests—he had 
been in the habit of inspecting them every month, 
19 



14fi 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


and not seeing the man he wanted, dismissing them 
—and on a particular day saw the man among them. 
When his eye fell on him, he gave him a betel leaf, 
which is the highest honour that a sovereign can 
bestow on a subject. When the king did this, the 
man made obeisance and kissed the ground. Tim 
king bade him rise and looking at him perceived that 
he did not recognise the King. He ordered the man 
to be well looked after, and entertained, and when 
this was done summoned him and said : Do you know 
me ? The man said : How could T fail to know the 
King, who is so mighty and exalted! The King 
said : I was not referring to that: do you know who 
I was before this state? The man said. No. The 
King then reminded him of the story and how he had 
withheld food from the prince for seven days when 
they were on the read. The man was abashed, and 
the King ordered him to be taken back to the man¬ 
sion, and entertained. Presently he was found to be 
dead. The Indian liver is abnormally large, and 
chagrin had been too much for this man, whose liver 
it affected so that he died. 


LECTURE VITl. 

Later Historians. 

In the work of Miskawaihi Arabic historical 
composition scorns to reach its highest point for the 
reasons that have been offered. With the portion 
of his work which was afterwards excerpted 
by Ibn al Athir for his universal history the 
late Mr. Amedroz combined (1) the continua¬ 
tion by Abu Shuja. vizier of Muqtadi, 481- 
484, who died in 503; (2) the continuation 
of Sinan’s Chronicle by Hilal the Sabi an, of 
which however only a fragment is accessible. 
What is recorded of Abu Shuja’ Rudhbari shows him 
to have been a pious and conscientious man : and 
to these qualities his chronicle bears evidence. In¬ 
tellectually he is decidedly inferior to Miskawaihi; 
moreover he goes out of his way to flatter the Sel- 
juqs, contrasting their achievements with those of 
the Buwaihids. Neither does he display anything 
like the practical acquaintance with and interest in 
the administration of the empire which Miskawaihi 
had acquired from his association with Ibn al-‘Amid 
and Muhallabi. 

Hilal’s history is preceded in Amedroz’s first 
edition by the fragment of his work on the viziers, 
which deals almost exclusively with the viziers of 
Muqtadir, Ibn al-Furat. ‘Ali b. ‘Isa, and Ibn Muq- 
lah. We find the source of many of his anecdotes in 
the Nishwar, which was described yesterday. At 
times he cites Tanukhi directly, at others he cites 
Tanukhi’s authorities. As however Tanukhi uses the 
phrase “ I was told by,” whereas Hilal employs 


148 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

“ iWe were told by,^ he may in all cases be 
citing Tanukhi, who was contemporary with 
the authority, whereas Hilal was too late, be¬ 
longing to the third generation. As a Katib, i.c., 
a permanent official at one of the bureaux, he had 
some of the intimate acquaintance with business 
which we find in Miskawaihi. 

There are two authors whose phenomenal in¬ 
dustry makes them conspicuous in the fifth and 
sixth centuries respectively. These are al-IChatiE 
of Baghdad and Ibn 'Asakir of Damascus. The 
former was born in 392. and died in 463. Yaqut 
regards him as the person with whom the series of 
traditionalists terminated, but this formula must 
not be strictly interpreted. He followed the exam¬ 
ple of Tabari and others who travelled far and wide 
in search of information: his journeys took him 
through Persia, Syria, and Mesopotamia, lie told 
the story of his making three wishes when lie drank 
of the Zamzarn water at the Pilgrimage : they were 
that he might lecture on the history of Baghdad in 
Baghdad: that he might dictate tradition in the 
Mosque of al-Mansur in the metropolis: and that 
when he died he might be buried by the grave of 
Bishr the Barefoot. 'All three wishes were ful¬ 
filled. The first was the easiest: on his return to 
the metropolis after his wanderings he opened a 
course on the history of Baghdad. The second was 
obtained less directly. He got hold of a note-book 
which contained traditions dictated by the Caliph 
Qa’im : he solicited permission to hear them from 
the Caliph. The Caliph, aware of his fame as a 
traditionalist, felt sure that this must be a device 



LATER HISTORIANS 


149 


for soliciting a favour : and when asked what favour 
he required, he replied that what he wanted was 
permission to recite traditions in the Mosque of 
Mansur. The Caliph, we are told, gave orders to 
the Naqib al-nuqaba or Chief Registrar that such 
permission should be accorded. 

The third wish was the hardest to secure. The 
place in the cemetery in which the Khatib desired 
to rest had already been secured by some one else, 
who had dug himself a grave and was accustomed to 
go thither and read the Qur’an through. When he 
W'as asked to yield possession to the Khatib, he 
declined, pointing out how much this meant to him. 
A man of authority proceeded to argue with him. 
Supposing, he said, Bishr the Barefoot were alive, 
wdiich of the two would sit by his side : you or the 
Khatib? He admitted that the honour would be 
given to the Khatib. Does not, the advocate urged, 
the analogy apply to the case of the dead ? The 
owner of the tomb gave .way to this reasoning and 
so the Khatib’s third wish was realized. 

It is recorded as an example of his expert 
knowledge how when a Jew produced a document 
which he declared to He a remission of jizyah from 
the Jews of Khaibar written by ‘Ali b. Abi Talib 
at the Prophet’s order, the Khatib detected the for¬ 
gery by pointing to anachronisms in the names of 
the witnesses : one had died two years before the 
taking of Khaibar, another did not adopt Islam till 
a year later. This learning was sc rare that the 
vizier of the time gave orders that no Traditions of 
the Prophet should be taught in Baghdad without 
the Khatib’s authorization 1 1 



150 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


It is interesting to note that among the teachers 
of Tradition whom the Khatib heard was a lady— 
Karimah, daughter of Ahmad of Marw, with whom 
lie read the Sahib of Bukhari in five days! Pro¬ 
bably tlie work was thorouglily familiar to both of 
them, but even so the time seems phenomenally 
short. 

The source of the Khatib’s information is said 
to have been a library collected by one Ghaith b. 
‘Ali of Tyre (al-Suri): at his death he left twelve 
bales of books with a sister. The Khatib, during 
his stay in that town obtained access to these books, 
and thence procured the material for his own, which 
were 55 in number. 

His classes in the Syrian mosques such as that 
of Tyre were crowded : but the Khatib said he would 
sooner have a scanty audience in the Mosque of 
Mansur in the metropolis than speak to a crowded 
congregation elsewhere: apparently the importance 
of the metropolis was not affected by the fortunes 
of the Caliphate till the Mongol storm. A descen¬ 
dant of ‘Ali coming to the Mosque of Tyre where 
the Khatib was lecturing offered him a present of 
dinars from one of the notables. The Khatib de¬ 
clined the gift: the ‘Alawid guessed that perhaps 
the Khatib thought it too small, and proceeded to 
pour on to the praying carpet 300 dinars. The 
Khatib took up the carpet and flung the dinars on to 
the ground. “ I shall never forget,” says the 
narrator, “ how proud the Khatib looked, and how 
humiliated was the ‘Alawid when he had to pick up 
the dinars from the holes in the ground and the inter¬ 
stices between the mats.” In another story his life 


LATER. HISTORIANS 


151 


was threatened in Damascus by a follower of the 
Shi‘ah who was governor of the place. The officer 
ordered to put him to death made him take refuge 
in the house of an 'Alawid who told the governor 
that the death of so eminent a man would be avenged 
by a massacre of the Shi'ah in Baghdad : he was 
therefore allowed to escape to Tyre. 

The first place in the list of his writings is 
occupied by the History of Baghdad, which is in the 
main a dictionary of biography, though this is pre¬ 
ceded by a description of the city. There follows 
a list of books connected with technicalities of the 
Tradition, some of them in defence of Shafi'i, of 
whose system the Khatib became an ardent follower, 
after first having followed that of Ibn Hanbal. 
Some others are in the style of the titles of the works 
of Jahiz, the Book of the Misers, the Book of the 
Parasites, the Book of Notification of the Charms of 
Autumn. His powers of memory were what ex¬ 
cited admiration: but some detractor maintained 
that he was unable to rely on it for answers to ques¬ 
tions and invariably requested time to prepare 
replies. 

An even vaster list of works is attached to the 
name of Ibn ‘Asakir, Ah' b. al-Hasan, 499-571. 
Like the Khatib he travelled far and wide after hear¬ 
ing the sheikhs of Damascus; five years were spent 
in Baghdad, others in the Hijaz, Ispahan, Merw, 
Herat, Raqqah, Kufah; among his instructors were 
1,300 men and over 80 women. The greatest of his 
works was the History of Damascus, at first in 570 
afterwards in 800 parts : like the History of Baghdad 
it begins with an account of the city and proceeds to 



152 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

an alphabetical dictionary of men who either lived 
there or had something to do with the place. The. 
description of Damascus is disappointingly scanty, 
and was easily superseded by a later topography : 
the dictionary of biographv is a meritorious work, 
largely utilised by Yaqut: Tbn 'Asakir himself takes 
much from the Khatib It is swollen to its vast 
dimensions by the Isnads and the repetition of the. 
same matter by different “ roads thus a folio 
is devoted to Abu Bakr the first Caliph, who is sup¬ 
posed to have visited the city in early days : but the 
volume contains only a few sayings attributed to this 
Caliph, the pages being filled with endless repeti¬ 
tions. In the edition which some scholars have 
commenced at Damascus these Asamd are omitted, 
and the bulk correspondingly reduced. 

The vast list of his other works contains men¬ 
tion of some auto biographical material: a dictionary 
in twelve parts bf persons from whom he had heard 
traditions, or who had heard them from him : col¬ 
lections of all sorts dealing with various aspects of 
Tradition, theological questions and others. The 
list with the details of the bulk of each work is over¬ 
whelming. Many of the works may have been 
little more than masses of material: but the biogra¬ 
phical portions of the History of Damascus. which' 
have been printed furnish indications of great indus¬ 
try in collecting names of persons, arranging them 
in alphabetical order, and ascertaining facts about 
them. 

As has been seen, a personage fo whom he de¬ 
voted special attention was the first Caliph. His 
son recorded how after he had delivered seven lec- 



LATER HISTORIANS 


153 


fcures on this Caliph’s merits, and then changed the 
subject for the wickedness of the Jews and their eter¬ 
nal punishment, a friend of the family came and 
narrated how he had seen Abu Bakv in a dream, and 
informed him that Ibn ‘Asakir had delivered these 
seven lectures on his virtues. Ibn ‘Asakir when he 
heard this held up four fingers, and stated that there 
were yet four more lectures ready to be delivered on 
the same theme. The friend does not seem to have 
recorded what observations the phantom made on 
this matter. 

Unlike many provincials who failed to win the 
admiration of the metropolis he appears to have suc¬ 
ceeded in securing it; he was one of three visitors 
from Damascus who surpassed all the sheikhs whom 
the people of Baghdad had seen, and indeed was the 
greatest of the three. Yei he was said to have made 
little money by his attainments. His son, when 
asked how he had fared in this matter, replied that 
pecuniary gains had never interested Ibn ‘Asakir : 
for forty years his time had been entirely devoted to 
reading, writing and lecturing. The questioner re¬ 
joined that he himself had been more fortunate : his 
studies had earned him the sum of twelve thousand 
dinars, whereby he had built a house and a mosque 
and a library. The story naturally led to comments 
on the scantiness of the returns which theological 
and historical researches produced. Many a poet 
had earned ten times that sum by a single ode. 

For the period which follows the point at which 
Hilal’s narrative breaks off we are seriously handi¬ 
capped by the want of original authorities. We learn 
the names of chroniclers, but their works have not 

20 



154 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

yet come to light. After the struggles between the 
branches of the Buwaihid family which Abu Shuja* 
(not himself an original authority) and Hi la! narrate, 
the centre of affairs is transferred from Baghdad to 
Shiraz, and the Seljucj Sultans who wrested power 
from the Buwaihids chose capitals of their own. Tt 
is clear for many reasons that Baghdad remained the 
literary metropolis, but the centre of power had 
shifted elsewhere, and the Eastern Caliphate wa,s 
hopelessly split. When in the sixth century the 
Caliph again became an independent ruler, his realm 
was a small fraction of its whilom extent. 

The period of the Buwaihids after Baha al- 
daulah is therefore very scantily recorded, and of the 
Seljuqs we have in Arabic no satisfactory history : 
the work of Bundari survives in an extract by ‘Ima 
dal-din Isfahani, who pays far more attention to ele¬ 
gant language than to facts. A historian who 
brought the history of Islam down to the year 575 
was the preacher Abu’l-Faraj Ibn al-Jauzi (508- 
597), of whose sermons the traveller Ibn Jubair 
speaks with enthusiasm. Of the many works which 
he composed some have seen the light: one on the 
exploits of ‘Umar II, and one on the adhkiya* 
shrewd men, a collection of marvellous and enter¬ 
taining anecdotes, including some detective stories. 
His chronicle, the Munta.zim, in twelve volumes, 
experienced the fate of many bulky works of this 
type; the volumes were dispersed, and separate por¬ 
tions have found their way into different libraries. 
In this work the obituary notices form an important- 
part of each year’s events, and this practice, which 
is followed to a moderate extent by Ibn a-l-Athir, 


LATER HISTORIANS 


155 


comes from this time more and more into vogue : the 
chronicle assumes a form resembling that of the 
Annual Register, wherein a very terse epitome of 
events is followed by lists of obits, at times swelling 
into lengthy biographies. 

Gibbon’s assertion that the Arabic historian is 
either the dry chronicler or the flowery orator be¬ 
comes true after Miskawaihi’s time, but not before. 
It would not be true of Tabari, Mas‘udi or Miska- 
waihi; it comes somewhat nearer truth in the his¬ 
torians who follow them, but is probably based on 
those late authors to whom Gibbon had access in 
Latin translations, especially Abu’l-Fida, the dry 
chronicler and Ibn ‘Arabshah, the flowery orator. 
The task which the chroniclers set themselves is apt 
to be so colossal that they have not time to do more 
than excert earlier works : the stylists set them¬ 
selves more moderate tasks, but their interest lies 
not in separating important facts from unimportant 
and rendering the sequence of events intelligible, 
but in finding choice phrases, classical synonyms, 
figures of speech and rhymes. 

In the vast range of universal dynastic, region¬ 
al and local chronicles which we possess there is of 
course great variety displayed in all the qualities 
which can enter into historical writing of any sort: 
accuracy, inpartiality, discrimination, power of 
arresting the reader’s attention and maintaining his 
interest. If none of those works which have been 
translated into a European language have acquired 
any sort of popularity in Europe, the reason pro¬ 
bably lies less in their want of merit in these matters 
than in the unfamiliarity of the European with the 



156 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


names and the institutions with which they deal. 
Thus although the romances composed by the late 
Jurji Zaidan on Islamic history were widely read in 
Egypt and other Arabic-speaking countries, English 
publishers held that translations of them would he 
unsaleable; the sentiments to which they appeal 
would be wanting. 

Of many Arabic historians it may be said that 
either their work is too mechanical, being the repro¬ 
duction or possibly abridgment of texts or narratives 
which were before them, or, if time was devoted to 
the composition, it had been employed in literary 
artifices which would disappear in translation, and 
so might be said to effect the externals rather than 
the essence of the narrative. There is of course one 
notable exception to this : the work of Thu Khaldun, 
732-808. His historical work, in which the dynas¬ 
ties are separately treated, with the consequence that 
much of the matter is repeated, hut which 
is of unique value for the records of Afri¬ 
can affairs which it preserves, is indeed of 
the dry type: a very bare narrative of events. 
But the initial volume of Prolegomena is 
unique in Arabic literature with few parallels in 
any that existed prior to the invention of printing, 
in that it embodies the author’s generalizations 
drawn from the study of the records which form the 
subject of the following volumes. The idea is curi¬ 
ously like that of Aristotle, who drew up or caused 
to be drawn up accounts of a great number of consti¬ 
tutions, and from his observations of what happened 
composed his great treatise on Politics. Both as¬ 
sume that there is a unilormity in human conduct 



LATER HISTORIANS 


157 


comparable to the uniformity of nature : that cer¬ 
tain modes of life develop certain tendencies: both 
eliminate so far as possible all elements that are 
exceptional and draw their inferences from normal 
occurrences, the repetition of which after the like 
antecedents justifies them in formulating rules. Ibr 
Khaldun does not like Aristotle aspire at creating an 
ideal state : he is of opinion rather that human affairs 
follow a natural course and expects nothing but 
recurrence of the same series of which his historical • 
studies had furnished so many examples. The re¬ 
sult is a philosophy of history, far removed from any 
evolutionary philosophy, because it does not contem¬ 
plate continuous progress, but strictly limited forms 
of it, which bear the seeds of destruction; the effete 
population of the towns must regularly give way to 
the vigorous immigrants from the wilds. And it 
might have been possible to foretell the future of 
North Africa with fair accuracy from the theories 
propounded by the Khaldun. 

His Prolegomena are not confined to philoso¬ 
phical speculations : he furnishes a useful compen¬ 
dium of the subjects which occupied the attention 
of the Muslims outside politics, showing that in his 
idea the function of history extended beyond the 
material which furnishes the annalists with their 
main topics : including literary, juristic and scienti¬ 
fic development, the origins of sects, and tile like. 

It does not appear that any other Arabic writer 
worked on lines similar to those of Ibn Khaldfin. 
Attempts had indeed been made to put into Arabic 
in intelligible form the results of the Greek thinkers 
on politics : but unfamiliarity with the institutions 



158 LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 

on which the Greeks based their study of the subject 
rendered such attempts at reproduction singularly 
infelicitous: the writers clearly grope in the dark. 
On the other hand those who conceive their task to 
consist in ascertaining the mutual rights and duties 
of autocrats and subjects arrive at little which does 
not lie on the surface. 

After Ibn Khaldun ihere is no lack of Arabic 
historians, Egypt being especially rich in chronicles 
for the Ayyubid and Mamluke period : among these 
are comprehensive histories, narrating events year 
by year, and biographies of individual Sultans, 
which, as was seen, cannot be distinguished from 
history. A writer of eminence among these is Mak- 
rizi, whose topography of Cairo is superior to any 
account which we possess in Arabic of any other 
city : it is also a mine of antiquities, and exhibits 
more industrious preparation and research than such 
polygraphs ordinarily have time to expend on their 
works. His history of the Mamluke Sultans, of 
which there is a French translation, though the ori¬ 
ginal has not yet been printed, is not inferior to the 
mass of chronicles, but scarcely rises above the 
average in any respect. Several of these Egyptian 
histories are, like Dhabali’s History of Islam, far 
more a collection of obituary notices than a continu¬ 
ous history : the authors take trouble to collect the 
obits, arrange them in alphabetical order, and record 
what they know about them. 

An exception must be made in favour of the 
History of Egypt by Ibn Iyas, which, after a brief 
sketch of events prior to the Mamluke period, carries 
the narrative down to the Ottoman Conquest. The 




LATER HISTORIANS 


159 


language is from the purest point of view unclassical; 
the author employs a vast number of words which 
the dictionaries do not recognize : he occasionally 
condescends to cite verses in the vernacular of the 
time. Much of his space is occupied with enumerat¬ 
ing the changes among the office-holders, who in the 
Mamluke system of government were numerous, and 
had their functions clearlv defined. His style and 
mode of thought display rather more individuality 
than is to be found in most of the annalists : he obvi¬ 
ously takes great delight in recording how popular 
superstitions were belied by events. Although the 
latter part of his history was composed under Tur¬ 
kish domination, he has no hesitation in ridiculing 
the Turks, and expressing his contempt for them. 
One notable effect of the Turkish victory however 
was that the series of Egyptian Clmonicles came to 
an end. 

Ibn Iyas does not rise to the height of Miska- 
waihi in composing picturesque and thrilling scenes, 
and portraying characters which the reader will envi¬ 
sage, and keep distinct in bis mind: his details are 
for the most part too dry and scanty to serve this 
purpose : the impression which he leaves is however 
that of an honest narrator of ascertained facts, and a 
careful observer, who note 1 - down and records matters 
of which the knowledge will prove valuable. Hence 
for antiquities in the sense of illustrations of man¬ 
ners and customs, notices of public works and other 
matters which the historians often neglect, his chro¬ 
nicle is of great utility. 

A history of Egypt from the time of the Muslim 
conquest stretching into the Mamluke period, on a 



160 


LECTURES ON ARABIC HISTORIANS 


rather colossal scale, of which we now possess many 
volumes in print is that by Abu’l-Mahasin Ibn 
Tangri-Bardi, whose father’s Turkish name means 
“ God-given.” The style of this author is more 
classical than that of Ibn lyas. 

We have now finished our survey of the earlier 
Arabic historical literature : many important works, 
published and unpublished, have had to be passed 
over in silence : we have confined ourselves to an 
account of the chief historians while the process of 
recording events was developing, stopping at the 
point where it tends to become mechanical and 
stereotyped. It would not be reasonable to expect 
amid this mass of names a great number of master¬ 
pieces : ancient Greece supplied very few, for no one 
regards the Universal History of Diodorus Siculus as 
a masterpiece, and large numbers of the treatises 
belonging to this category, of which some have sur¬ 
vived in large portions, others are known only by 
fragments, whereas others have perished entirely, 
were clearly of mediocre merit, though for the most- 
part of value for the information which they pre¬ 
served. In quantity and variety the Arabic histori¬ 
cal composition was certainly not inferior to that of 
Greece, having indeed a far larger area i6 cover : and 
if it exhibits few works which display brilliant intel¬ 
lectual ability, or which are likely to acquire anv 
wide popularity in translation, we must set in com¬ 
pensation of this the earnest desire which so many 
of the historians display to ascertain and record the 
exact truth, and to refrain from distorting it with 
fanaticism or partisanship. 



OTHER ISLAMIC PUBLICATIONS OF THE 
CALCUTTA UNIVERSITY. 


A History of Islamic People. By S. Khuda Bukhsh, M.A. 
(Oxon.), B.C.L., Barrister-at-Law. Demy 8vo. pp. 178. 1914. 
Rs. fi- 10 . 

The Orient under the Caliphs. By the same author. Demy 
8vo. pp. 470. Rs. 8-6. 

Islamic Civilization, Vol. I. By the same author. Demy 
8vo. pp. 304. 1929. Rs. d. 

Do. Yol. II. Demy 8vo. pp. 304 + 6. 1930. 

The Early Heroes of Islam. By 8. A. Salik, B.A. Demy 
8vo. pp. 514. 1926. Rs. 6. 

The Arab Kingdom and its Fall. By J. Wellhausen, Trans¬ 
lated into English by Margaret Graham Weir, M.A. Demy 8vo. 
pp. 607. 1927. Rs. 7-8. 


(To be had of all leading book-sellers of Calcutta, Bombay, 
Madras, Delhi and Lahore.) 






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Catalogue No. 928.088/Mar - 10064. 


Author—Margo 1 i o uth, D. S 


Title— Lectures on Arabic histo- 


Jr GOVT. OF INDIA U 
Department of Archaeology ifi 

$ NEW DELHI. 1 


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